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

Sulfide mining, which will pollute the state’s strongest resource, should not be viewed as a  solution to “defeat climate change.”

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.

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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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