Say no to northeast mining

by Logan Bailey - University student

Recently, the Minnesota Daily Editorial Board called for opinions on the issue of mining in northeast Minnesota. The fact is many people and organizations, like the Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness and the Minnesota Environmental Partnership, are publicly discussing the issue. The Minnesota Public Interest Research Group joins those groups in voicing concern about sulfide mining.

In the past few years, mining companies have been investigating sulfide mining in northeastern Minnesota. Sulfide mining involves the removal of copper, nickel and other precious metals from sulfide ore. Many mining sites have been proposed, with PolyMet MiningâÄôs NorthMet proposal furthest along in the permit process.

Some sites are located in cherished wilderness areas. Others will remove people from their homes, since the state owns the mineral rights on their property.

The consequences of sulfide mining are severe. Rainfall on waste sulfide rock results in acid mine drainage, which can devastate surface water ecosystems and pollute groundwater. Mining companies say pollution runoff wonâÄôt occur, but 76 percent of all mines that make this claim end up with runoff that exceeds pollution standards.

A draft Environmental Impact Statement of the NorthMet proposal received the lowest possible rating from the Environmental Protection Agency. This enormous environmental threat is next to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, whose unspoiled wilderness fuels a $1.6 billion tourism economy.

The opposing argument is that jobs should take precedence over environmental concerns. As a youth organization, MPIRG supports sustainable economic growth. The economic advantages of these proposed mining operations, however, are only temporary.

Mining has historically been a boom and bust industry. In the last 20 years, 16 hard rock mines declared bankruptcy. This devastates local economies dependent on the mining industry and forces taxpayers to cover the enormous cost of cleanup and restoration. Even under optimistic circumstances, PolyMet expects the mine to last 20 years.

The fate of the NorthMet proposal will set a precedent for other sulfide mining proposals in northeast Minnesota. Therefore it is important that if mining occurs, it is done responsibly. One way to promote this is through financial assurance, which is a damage deposit paid upfront by the mining company for cleanup costs. This ensures that pollution from the mine will be treated without the possibility of Minnesota taxpayers having to shoulder the burden. Requiring financial assurance is a step toward a sustainable environment and economy.