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Prove it first! Make mining companies show that their technologies won’t pollute

If mining companies prove their technologies will not pollute Minnesota air and water, let them have the minerals they desire.

ELY, Minn. — A pro-mining stance combined with a pro-environment stance, which everyone claims they desire, demands nothing less than a “prove it first” law in Minnesota. “Prove it first” is the obvious and only conclusion that permits mining and saves the clean air and water we all love and need.

For Minnesota politicians or residents to accept or promote anything less than “prove it first” with parameters similar to the Wisconsin law in regard to non-ferrous sulfide mining in Minnesota is to be one of the following (or perhaps all three):

Misinformed: Many still don’t know the difference between iron mining and non-ferrous sulfide mining. Why do politicians rarely distinguish between the two entirely different processes? Many believe in the hype and promises of this non-ferrous mining industry with a significantly less-than-stellar reputation. They believe in the myth of “strong regulations” of the mining industry in Minnesota. Some co-opted politicians believe the existing wild rice protective limits for sulfates were “arbitrarily” chosen, when in fact the research establishing the existing limits was performed by one of our DNR’s best scientists, who had the absolute respect of his colleagues. That field research was done when our waters were less polluted than they are now; therefore it was more reliable than if done today in more polluted waters or in a laboratory. 

Disingenuous: This includes those claiming to be for clean water but doing nothing to guarantee such. And, there is no guarantee in promises, inadequate financial assurances or unproven new technology. 

Intellectually dishonest: Do we not have enough polluted water (and increasing at every count)?  Have we not coddled the mining industry sufficiently, to our own detriment? My research indicates that Minnesota is not protecting Minnesotans and our water, partly because of inadequate regulations but more often because of inadequate enforcement. Those of us who have been labeled hard-headed environmentalists by U.S. Rep. Chip Cravaack and state Rep. Tom Rukavina are at odds with the intellectually dishonest who are demanding faster tracking to disaster and land swaps that are blatantly unfair to Minnesotans. Why would we trade lands that are protected by the Weeks Act for unprotected lands? The claim that the BWCA land swap bill H.R. 5544 is for the poor children is intellectually dishonest. If it were so important, you would think these stalwart politicians would have demanded  to settle this land issue for the children years ago. But now that Polymet Mining and other mining interests want these lands, the children’s interests surface more prominently.

Iron Range politicians and mining companies dislike the analysis brought to the current situation by the researched and documented “resource curse.” In essence, if mining is so great and supposedly we are in record times for taconite production, why are Iron Range communities in such bad economic shape?  You would think communities would benefit along with the mining companies, but the research indicates that communities are worse off with mining than without.

An article from Mining Watch Canada shows how the mining industry is questioning the “resource curse.” The International Council on Minerals and Metals has determined the problem is with poor governance of host countries. First mining companies co-opt all levels of governance for minimum regulations, favoritism at all levels and the best terms and taxation, then they blame the host country for not striking a better deal, not managing revenues and not investing in social causes or benefit sharing, particularly at the local level (the ICMM’s words, not mine). So, mining companies are responsible for nothing except their profits. And in part that is true. In the U.S. they are legally bound to maximize shareholders profits. If they decide to become socially conscious and that costs money, shareholders could sue them for not maximizing profits. It should therefore fall on governments, the supposed representative in the service of the people, to demand the best possible “deal” for their citizens, in this case the residents of Minnesota.  

THEREFORE: Prove it first! If mining companies prove their technologies will not pollute Minnesota air and water, let them have the minerals they desire. And, to Minnesota politicians at all levels of governance: Strike the best deal you can for all the residents of Minnesota, for the health and wealth of Minnesota. Be informed, and more important, keep us informed.

Be genuine in your dealings with us; we see right through the disingenuous. We don’t need any more governmental “listening sessions”; we need dialogue and governmental transparency. 

Richard Watson is a resident of Ely. He writes the Threatened Waters Blog.


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Comments (4)

  1. Submitted by mark wallek on 09/10/2012 - 12:19 pm.

    It makes perfect sense

    To ask, by law, to “prove it first” makes perfect sense. If there were not so many many instances of false promises, we would not even need to consider “prove it first.” But there have been many lies, and horrific pollution (Love canal, or up in the rockies) so a “prove it first” law makes perfect sense. Now, since such a law would probably endanger profit, we could expect an industry fight against such a law. And no doubt, the anti campaign would be very well funded. Still, if we are to get back to humans telling corporations whaty they want, rather than corps having toadies soft pedal the corporate lusts, we must start soon, and here is as good a place as any to begin.

  2. Submitted by ALAN BELISLE on 09/10/2012 - 03:44 pm.

    Establish baselines too

    Before any company can START a mining or drilling project, they should be first required to establish a baseline for future comparisons. Take soil, water, and air samples for a 5 mile radius from the site and as deep as any proposed drilling. That would establish what is “normal” for the area. I would also record the current market value of all property and buildings within the same area. Then, let them start up. Take new readings every month at all of the the sample sites. If anything new shows up, then everyone would know where it came from and who is responsible for damages and cleanup. If the damage to the area was severe enough to render it a risk to human and livestock health, force the company to immediately cease operations and reimburse the original property owners the full market value as recorded before operations began, plus stiff penalties. Just seems prudent to me.

  3. Submitted by Lois Norrgard on 09/11/2012 - 04:42 pm.

    Thanks Richard!

    You are so correct – we can no longer let industry take advantage of us – or our elected leaders. Intellectually dishonest indeed – I hope our Senators – Franken and Klobuchar are reading this post.

    Corporations first came into being to help citizens and society. Now they take advantage at every turn. Until they can be good stewards to us, our lands and waters, our health and our children, we must say no. The Prove It First law is a good place to start.

  4. Submitted by Elanne Palcich on 09/12/2012 - 09:01 am.

    Response to Alan’s comment

    Once sulfide mining is allowed to start, I think it will be nearly impossible to stop. First, the state and IRRRB subsidize mining. Even now Highway 1 near Ely is being widened and straightened. to accomodate mining trucks. In the case of Essar Steel, electric lines, natural gas pipelines, roadways, and a railroad spur have all been installed at state expense in order to support the mining. So it seems to me that if a problem should develop, the state will simply step in to subsidize some kind of “fix.”. The IRRRB consistently refunds money to the taconite industry to pay for pollution fines and/or to help upgrade mining pollution technology–which is nice except that IRRRB is taconite tax money paid in lieu of taxes and is supposed to go to people and the communities, not the billion-dollar mining companies. In the meantime, the state regulatory agencies have allowed the taconite industry to ignore standards for both water and air, and are now allowing taconite expansion, even though current pollution cannot be cleaned up. So allowing sulfide mining to start up is starting at a very slippery slope. In addition, once mining starts up, the tourist and recreational businesses of that area will fold. Lake shore real estate values in mineral exploration areas are already plummeting. So you can’t simply stop a mining operation and expect the current economy to bounce back. You have now destroyed both economies, as well as polluted the environment. The bottom line is this: Minnesota’s low-grade highly disseminated ores should stay where they belong–scattered throughout the bedrock of northeast Minnesota.

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