Public Comments will be accepted by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources through 4:30pm March 13 regarding the controversial open pit sulfide mine PolyMet proposes to operate for twenty years in a water intensive area within Superior National Forest. A prepared comment to the EPA and three lead agencies can be made here.
This hazardous type of hard rock mining is unprecedented in our state. Wisconsin has banned sulfide mining until it can be shown that the industry can safely operate anywhere in North America for at least 10 years. Concerns about dangerous levels of pollution and taxpayers being left footing the bill for clean up are warranted, given the mining industry’s history of companies going bankrupt or lacking the financial resources to respond to pollution from their mines.
With any sulfide mine there is risk of acid mine drainage. Sulfide mining in water-intensive areas has never been done without contaminating surrounding waters. The proposed “NorthMet” mine site (near Hoyt Lakes) is part of the St. Louis River watershed, which flows into Lake Superior. Groundwater would be contaminated in the mining process, the question is how badly and for how long. Unlike iron and taconite mining, sulfide mining produces dangerous compounds akin to battery acid, which can persist indefinitely (2500-10,000 years). Read more about the dangers.
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources held three public meetings recently to give information and get feedback regarding the latest environmental impact statement for the mine. The first meeting was in Duluth on January 16th, the second was in Aurora on January 22nd, and I attended the final one in St. Paul on Jan 28th, which you can watch in full here.
As far as I know there aren’t many miners living in the Twin Cities, so I fully expected the St. Paul hearing to be dominated by environmental activists. We don’t have much to gain from the 360 mining jobs created in Northern Minnesota, so we would not be quick to invite foreign interests to contaminate our most vital natural resource: freshwater.
This was a naive supposition on my part. Busloads of miners were trucked from Northern Minnesota, and though speakers were chosen by lottery, PolyMet made sure many key speakers on their side of the debate would be heard. When someone on the pro-mine side was chosen randomly, more often than not they would cede their time to one of these key speakers. It felt to me as if PolyMet was dominating a hearing which was meant to give the public a voice in the matter.
Lots of opponents of the mine spoke too, with comments ranging from scientific and statistics-laden, to heartfelt pleas to preserve their children’s health and not let their way of life be steamrolled by greedy corporations.
Attending the hearing deepened my understanding of how many people, animals, and fragile habitats the mine would affect. But the overwhelming feeling I was left with is that there is so much money riding on this project it is scary. The lions share of profits leave our country because these are foreign mining companies. But the scarier part is how that money allows them to be better organized, louder, and more dominating. Opponents of the mine cannot rely on lots of dollars, we must rely on lots of people who care about preserving our health, water quality, and the natural habitats that make our state great. So please spread the word and get your comments in by 4:30pm Thursday, March 13th. Send a prepared comment to the EPA, MNDNR, US Forest Service here.