Oppose sulfide mining

Several companies are considering mining opera­tions in northeastern Min­nesota to extract copper, nickel, gold, platinum, pal­ladium and other sulfide metals. The spokesmen for these companies often use terms like “environmentally safe mining” when talking to reporters and the pub­lic, which may sound great, but there is zero evidence to back up the claim that sulfide mining can be done without causing devastat­ing watershed pollution. In fact, there are no examples in the world of such a mine that has not polluted.

So it’s not surprising that the group American Rivers recently named the South Kawishiwi — a river near Ely, Minn. — as one of its most endangered rivers in the country. The Kawishiwi is being threatened by pro­posed sulfide mining proj­ects along its banks and at the doorstep of the Bound­ary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

What these mining com­panies are bending over to gloss over (or cover up) is the fact that sulfide min­ing pollution can continue for hundreds or thousands of years, even indefinitely. The generation of acidic mine drainage will con­tinue as long as sulfides, water and air mix. No new technologies have emerged that can stop the chemical reaction once it begins. Due in part to the poisoned waterways and watersheds left behind by sulfide mining companies, regions where such mining takes place are oftentimes some of the most impover­ished in the nation.

As explained by Univer­sity of Montana economist Thomas Power, “We have hundreds of years of his­tory with mining. It’s star­ing us in the face on the Iron Range or the Upper Peninsula or Butte, Mont. How is it that despite the high wages and the in­credible wealth pulled out of the ground, these ar­eas are not prosperous?” Minnesota Backcountry Hunter and Anglers mem­ber and former miner Bob Tammen adds: “We don’t have a healthy main street along 100 miles of the Mes­abi Range. If mining brings prosperity, how come our communities don’t have it?”

A recent poll found that 48 percent of state resi­dents polled opposed such mining while 39 percent favor the projects. Other statewide polling shows an overwhelming 85 percent of Minnesotans favor re­quiring mining companies to prove they have the fi­nancial means to clean up pollution from their mines before beginning opera­tions.

This is hardly surpris­ing because cleanup costs at copper mines through­out the world have often run into the hundreds of millions of dollars, and over and over again taxpay­ers have been left footing the bill. Some 12,000 miles of rivers and streams and more than 180,000 acres of lakes and reservoirs in this nation have been polluted as a byproduct of sulfide mining. The Environmen­tal Protection Agency es­timates that it would cost $50 billion to clean up the sulfide mines in Alaska, 11 western states and South Dakota.

Iron Range resident Jennifer Cummings adds, “The jobs that mining com­panies offer will not bring prosperity to us. If mining companies’ promises were true, this would be the wealthiest part of the coun­try.” Jim Walker, who grew up in proximity to the min­ing territories of north cen­tral Pennsylvania, explains, “I’m very familiar with the damage mining brings to a watershed and the sur­rounding landscape as well as to places downstream. The resulting economic development is short-lived compared to the centuries of pollution that follow.”

As winter turns to spring, Minnesota’s an­glers and other outdoors­men and women prepare for the upcoming fishing and then hunting sea­sons. If you venture into northern Minnesota’s Iron Range, you probably won’t notice any signs of a boom­ing economy until you get to places like Ely. As one local said, “In Ely in the summer, you would think that you’re at the Mall of America there are so many people. I visit Mountain Iron on a fairly regular ba­sis — right on the edge of a major mine. All you see is a crumbling community.”