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Minerals in northern Minnesota pale in importance to the health of the state’s waters

MinnPost photo by Greta Kaul
Boundary Water Canoe Area Wilderness
Regarding Walker Orenstein’s MinnPost story, “Should we mine copper and nickel in Minnesota … to help defeat climate change?”:

Sulfide mining is not a solution to the “climate crisis”; nor is the need for copper a compelling reason to allow sulfide mining in northern Minnesota. Supporting it in northern Minnesota is replacing one problem for another. It is defining copper, nickel, and other metals like cobalt to be more important than Minnesota’s assets — its closest Great Lake and its own protected Boundary Water Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCA).

The majority of sulfide mining supporters are Minnesotans living in and surrounding the Iron Range area, lawmakers representing said locals, and the owners of Twin Metals and PolyMet, Antofagasta and Glencore. Those who live in the region once thrived from the booming ore mines, explaining why they are seeking the project as a way of creating more jobs and perhaps a means of revitalization. However, it can be assumed the private mining companies have different reasons for their proposal and those reasons do not coincide with the public interest. It is understandable that the former mining-heavy economy would be looking back to an industry that once worked tremendously for the area; however, sulfide mining is not the same as ore mining. It will be a new type of mining affecting the whole state.

Look at the track record

According to the Minnesota Environmental Partnership (MEP), no sulfide mining has ever been achieved without contaminating nearby water sources. How are Minnesotans supposed to trust a different type of mining that has that type of track record? Especially when the mining locations are on watersheds that will drain into the BWCA or into the St. Louis River and eventually into Lake Superior. As mentioned by reporter Orenstein, sulfide mining creates sulfuric acid if the sulfide rock comes into contact with air or water to initiate the chemical reaction. This could be misleading as it leaves room to suggest contact with air and water can be completely avoided, which is impossible.

Beyond the effects of sulfide mining on the lakes, MEP also provided the public with a list of sulfide mining facts that detail the health, financial, and agricultural concerns. Some of the secondary complications include that employees will have an increased risk of cancer, taxpayers may have to pay if there is a mine waste spill, and there is a greater risk of mercury contamination for all Minnesotans from fish and wildlife consumed.

Most valuable resource: water

This is a problem for all Minnesotans as the culture here appreciates leisure activities like fishing, hunting, and cabin life, all of which would be affected by sulfide mining. Though the economic incentives for those living on the Iron Range and northern Minnesota are immediate, the expectation for economic gain will not last as long as the 500 years it will take to treat the waters after the mines have closed.

Minnesota’s most valuable resource is its fresh 10,000 lakes of water; sulfide mining, which will pollute the state’s strongest resource, should not be viewed as a solution to “defeat climate change.”

Bria Raines is a graduate student at the University of Minnesota studying urban and regional studies with an emphasis on environmental planning. 


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Comments (12)

  1. Submitted by Richard Owens on 09/24/2019 - 10:30 am.

    Thank you Bria Raines- the voice of reason, referencing hard rock mining pollution history and science. The Iron Range needs jobs AND a protected environment that once poisoned, can never be replaced.

    Minnesota’s leaders can help build a future that provides jobs much easier than they can contain and police an international mining conglomerate.

    Let’s do that. Rural Minnesotans all need decent jobs and a reverence for our natural resources. Surely they are compatible.

    • Submitted by Joe Bontems on 09/24/2019 - 01:03 pm.

      Beautifully expressed, Mr. Owens.
      Having grown up in northern Mn, as a scout I canoed in the Boundary Waters, and marvelled at the majesty and purity of nature (from our canoes, we could dip our cups into the lake for a drink). This incomparable area must be preserved.
      And I hope that the ingenuity of the ” Iron Rangers” along with financial investment from elsewhere in Minnesota will create sustainable employment while conserving a great and irreplaceable natural ecosystem!

  2. Submitted by Glenda Noble on 09/24/2019 - 12:37 pm.

    Amen!……and thank you Bria Raines. Well-stated.
    Surely, in this era of cyber space & working from home, of solar & wind energy manufacturing, some innovative and creative minds (and we know there are some out there) can add jobs to Greater Minnesota without taking such humongous chances of ruining our environment. Surely, the cost of doing so would be far less than the cost of endangering and loss of our beautiful northern land and water.

    • Submitted by Richard Owens on 09/24/2019 - 02:27 pm.

      Great idea. Let’s wire NE MN with fiber-optics and get them some infrastructure that will open doors of opportunity.

      Minnesota needs fiber speeds everywhere, but amazingly, in 2019, we still have folks in rural Minnesota whose kids can’t even do their homework because connections are so poor.

      C’mon, Gov.! Let’s go!

  3. Submitted by Joe Smith on 09/24/2019 - 02:18 pm.

    You can do both. Responsible mining in 2019 is a reality. The fear mongering by the Left, is just that, fear mongering.

    • Submitted by Richard Owens on 09/25/2019 - 07:21 am.

      No Joe. It is not fear mongering.

      It is a lesson from every sulfide mining operation attempted in a wet environment, that it WILL acidify and poison our water sooner or later.

      You should not reject the history and the science just for the promise of more money.

      • Submitted by Joe Smith on 09/25/2019 - 01:12 pm.

        Yes it is fear mongering. The regulations that are in place in 2019 makes mining safe. Showing failed mines built in the 40’s, 50’s, 60’s and 70’s does nothing to prove your point. Folks here are plain anti mining, nothing anyone could say to change that. I actually live up here and mining has done nothing but help the Range.

    • Submitted by Mark Voorhees on 09/25/2019 - 07:40 am.

      Mr. Smith, can you please state how Responsible mining will occur? You can start by giving examples of copper nickel mines that haven’t polluted water sources.

      A mine has a limited life span and the jobs, in this respect, are of limited duration. Our natural environment is forever. Please create jobs through mining but our water rich environment MUST be protected foremost.

    • Submitted by William Duncan on 09/25/2019 - 08:53 am.


      I am not on the left, but I have called these mining plans both irresponsible and insane.

      Glencore and Antigafosta caring about the integrity of Minnesota waters is laughable at best. That they will make a mess of these waters, in a classic pollute and plunder operation, skipping out after, is as predictible as the setting of the sun. Cleanup costs over the life of the remediation will dwarf the near-term economic benefit to locals. Like so many rural areas in America, the resource will be removed and the locals will see little of the profits and be left with the mess.

      Trump was elected in part because the Washington establishment through trade agreements were giving more power to corporations foreign and domestic than to American citizens and their governments. Walz with his weak-willed championing of this mining is a prime example. I should think residents of the Arrowhead might be more patriotic than that.

    • Submitted by Steve Timmer on 09/25/2019 - 11:08 am.

      Sulfate and methylmercury levels in the St, Louis are already high. Mining is obviously a reason. So is the large coal fired power plant in Cohasset which supplies power to the mines, and would to PolyMet.

    • Submitted by Eric Snyder on 10/11/2019 - 04:42 pm.

      I’m afraid that the slogan “responsible mining” is mere rhetoric, industry-friendly flimflam designed to do precisely what Mr. Smith has done with it.

      If you define responsible mining as that which won’t pollute, then there is no such thing as responsible sulfide mining. It doesn’t exist, and given everything we know about this mining process, it actually can’t exist without polluting.

      If there’s some other definition of “responsible mining” it’s irrelevant, because what matters is avoiding pollution in this part of our state.

  4. Submitted by Janette Dean on 09/28/2019 - 10:33 am.

    Thank you, Ms. Bria Raines for writing this piece. All must wake up that sufide ore mining in water-rich Minnesota is truly a recipe for disaster. We are failing people, nature & wildlife in our state if we ever allow such a dangerous activity near our priceless watersheds. When will more of us finally heed indigenous knowledge & wisdom: Mni Wiconi – “That which gives me life” (water!) a.k.a. Water Is Life

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