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Should we mine copper and nickel in Minnesota … to help defeat climate change?

PolyMet Mining hopes to build one of the state’s first copper-nickel mine.
MinnPost photo by Walker Orenstein
PolyMet Mining hopes to build one of the state’s first copper-nickel mines.

Just as steel made from Minnesota’s iron ore powered the U.S. military to victory during World War II, supporters of copper-nickel mining in the state say the industry could help defeat another global challenge: the climate crisis.

Demand is on the rise for renewable energy and electric cars that rely on copper, nickel, cobalt and other metals. And as the world continues to transition away from fossil fuels, the need for those minerals will only continue to grow. 

In August, Gov. Tim Walz told MinnPost the state should allow mining if it expects to reach a carbon-free future. “There’s 5.5 tons of copper in every megawatt of solar, and it comes from somewhere,” he said.

That argument has grown popular with Twin Metals Minnesota and PolyMet Mining, which hope to build the state’s first copper-nickel mines, as well as their political allies. It’s often used to ease concerns that a boom in so-called sulfide mining could pollute Lake Superior and the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCA) with toxic mine waste and acidic runoff.


Yet the clean energy case has not won over ardent skeptics of copper-nickel mining in the state. Environmental groups say a focus on recycling and mining in more favorable environments can ensure an energy transition without risk of water pollution in Minnesota. Some have accused mining companies of being insincere to say they’re helping fight climate change when they have not advocated for clean energy policy at the Legislature.

“Actions speak louder than words for these mining companies,” said Kathryn Hoffman, CEO of the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy. “We need policy change to move us toward a clean energy economy.”

Will a green boom need an influx of metals?

The statistic Walz cited — that there’s 5.5 tons of copper used to produce every megawatt of solar power — is frequently promoted by the Copper Development Association (CDA), an industry marketing group. The organization also says there’s up to 4.7 tons of copper in every three megawatt wind turbine, plus a need for the metals in batteries that store clean energy and power electric vehicles.

The metal is so popular because it can conduct heat and electricity well and is easily bent into wires or sheets. The CDA says without copper, electrical equipment like motors and cables would use 20 percent more materials. Copper can also be recycled time and again.

Nickel, the other primary mineral Twin Metals and PolyMet would mine, is a crucial component of many batteries used by electric cars. The same is true for cobalt, which is needed in lithium-ion batteries and would be mined. (Steel is also critical to wind turbines.)

Demand for renewable energy and electric vehicles is growing. Wind and solar could soon be cheaper than coal and gas across the United States, and electric vehicles continue to sell at higher rates globally.

MPCA
Nickel, the other primary mineral Twin Metals and PolyMet would mine, is a crucial component of many batteries used by electric cars.
In Minnesota, Xcel Energy’s path to carbon-free energy by 2050 includes massive expansion of renewables. By 2030, the company hopes to add 3,000 megawatts of solar power, enough for more than 650,000 homes, and launch the biggest wind expansion in its history by 2022.

A 2017 World Bank report says if the world builds enough wind technology to keep global warming to a 2 degree increase — a benchmark in the Paris Climate agreement — there could be a roughly 250 percent hike in industry demand for copper and nickel through 2050. For solar, it could be about a 300 percent increase. For energy storage technology, the need for nickel could rise nearly 1,200 percent.


That doesn’t mean the United States can feed the world’s appetite for metals on its own. The country trailed Chile, China and Peru in 2018 copper output. The U.S. has less in reserves than even Australia and Mexico, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. It’s an even smaller part of the nickel industry, producing less in 2018 at least a dozen countries, including Canada, China and Australia. Its reserves pale in comparison to those countries, as well.

Still, Minnesota has a lot to contribute. The sites that Twin Metals and PolyMet hope to mine are within the untapped Duluth Complex, which holds the world’s second largest copper deposit and its third largest nickel deposit.

Bruce Richardson, a spokesman for PolyMet, said the company doesn’t know how much metal produced at their mine would eventually be used for renewable energy and other environmentally friendly technology. A commodity sold in a world market “could end up anywhere,” he said in an email.

Nickel production and reserves for selected countries in metric tons
Country2018 productionReserves
Indonesia560,00021,000,000
Philippines340,0004,800,000
New Caledonia210,000N/A
Russia210,0007,600,000
Australia170,00019,000,000
Canada160,0002,700,000
China110,0002,800,000
United States19,000110,000
Source: U.S. Geological Survey
Copper production and reserves for selected countries in thousand metric tons
Country2018 productionReserves
Chile5,800170,000
Peru2,40083,000
China1,60026,000
United States1,20048,000
Congo1,20020,000
Source: U.S. Geological Survey

But Richardson said the company’s focus “remains on bringing on new production responsibly” to meet the mineral demand. “The metals for green technologies have to come from somewhere … so why not from Minnesota?” he said.

Kathy Graul, a spokeswoman for Twin Metals, said “if we don’t mine the metals that are needed to meet the demand and advance the green economy, we simply can’t make the transition to carbon-free technologies.”

Reduce, reuse, recycle

Many opponents of copper-nickel mining say the need for metals that create green technology is not justification enough to risk water pollution from PolyMet and Twin Metals.

Sulfide mining carries risks to water that iron ore mining does not. When the ore-bearing rock is exposed to air and water, it can create an acidic runoff and leach heavy metals into waterways. Such pollution has plagued the industry, although Twin Metals and PolyMet maintain they can meet state environmental standards with modern mining technology such as intensive water treatment.

PolyMet’s project, owned by Swiss mining behemoth Glencore, has all permits to begin construction and is working to finance its $1 billion open-pit mine near Hoyt Lakes. The project would sit in the watershed of the St. Louis River and Lake Superior. Twin Metals, owned by Chile’s Antofagasta, would be in the watershed of the Rainy River and the BWCA. The company expects to submit a plan for its underground mine near Ely to regulators this year.


State Rep. Kelly Morrison, a DFLer from Deephaven, said she is concerned the state’s environmental laws aren’t tough enough and worried the state’s financial assurance package with PolyMet will leave taxpayers, not Glencore, on the hook for cleanup. 

Morrison said the world is “vastly underutilizing recycling of these metals” and should always be looking for ways to build a carbon-free economy that involves little to no mining. A United Nations report from 2013 says more than 50 percent of “end-of-life” copper, nickel, cobalt and palladium is recycled, but that metal recycling could be improved. The World Bank research on future metal needs does not factor in recycling.

Still, Morrison said recycling isn’t likely to cover all the demand for metal, and the U.N. report says there are significant barriers to higher recycling rates. But Morrison said mining in drier places should still be the priority. Most hard rock mining in the country takes place in the West. Many of the world’s largest copper mines are in deserts, like Chile’s Atacama. (Although those mines have drawn environmental concerns, too.)

Glencore's corporate offices in Switzerland
Courtesy of Glencore
PolyMet’s project, owned by Swiss mining behemoth Glencore, has all permits to begin construction and is working to finance its $1 billion open-pit mine near Hoyt Lakes.
“I would just hope that we would do it in the safest possible way when you look at people, water, and the economy,” Morrison said. “And I would make the case that is not what we currently have set up in the case of PolyMet or Twin Metals.”

Hoffman, of the MCEA, said PolyMet and Twin Metals would be “barely a bug on the windshield of the global copper market” if built. An increase of a capacity at existing mines could “dwarf the effects of PolyMet,” she said.

No green-mining harmony in state politics

If mining supporters and clean energy advocates have a shared interest in advancing renewable energy, they have not forged an alliance in Minnesota.

Prominent renewable power groups Fresh Energy and the Center for Energy and Environment declined to comment for this article. An Xcel Energy spokesman did not respond to a request for comment.

Peder Mewis, a regional policy manager for the nonprofit Clean Grid Alliance, told MinnPost the Iron Mining Association  — a supporter of copper-nickel mining — has been an influential roadblock to policy at the Legislature that aims to speed up the transition from fossil fuels to carbon-free energy. Twin Metals and PolyMet have stayed away from the debate. That has irked some as hypocritical, or a missed opportunity for a strong political partnership.

Gov. Tim Walz
Gov. Tim Walz
The main priority of many DFLers and some Republicans is “clean energy first,” a regulation that would make it tougher for the Public Utilities Commission to approve new fossil fuel power projects. Walz’s proposal for a carbon-free energy grid by 2050 is another agenda-topper for many environmental groups and Democrats.

Mewis said he has worked to convince mining advocates that “clean energy first” could boost wind energy and increase the need for steel. Separately, the North Dakota and Minnesota chapter of the Laborer’s International Union of North America has promoted the legislation as a potential boon for the copper and iron ore mining industries.

Richardson, the PolyMet spokesman, said his company is “neutral” on the clean energy regulation and Walz’s carbon-free energy plan. Twin Metals declined to comment on either piece of legislation and said the market is already moving toward a greener economy.

Nancy Norr, chairwoman of Jobs for Minnesotans, a coalition of construction unions, Minnesota Power and pro-business organizations like the Chamber of Commerce, said her group “stands in alignment with Governor Walz” on the need for copper, nickel iron and more to support a greener economy. But the organization is also neutral on the bills at the Legislature.

Kelsey Johnson, president of the Iron Mining Association, told MinnPost that power rates have jumped 60 percent since 2007 for her energy-intensive industry, which is supplied by  the northern utility Minnesota Power. She said big utilities like Xcel Energy are already moving to clean energy by 2050 without stricter government mandates, and new regulations could impose higher prices on smaller power companies and their customers. 

Minnesota Power said it’s on track to provide 50 percent renewable energy by 2021, but Bethany Owen, president of its parent company ALLETE, said the company is “mindful of the impacts the pace of change has on our customers and communities.” They didn’t comment on the legislation at the Capitol.

Plus, Johnson said Minnesota’s iron ore mines generally don’t supply steel for wind turbines. The state’s iron ore is commonly used as steel for construction materials and household appliances. “As we continue to move forward toward a more green economy, we have to take into consideration industries like American iron and steel and our cost competitiveness as we compete on a global market,” Johnson said.

State Rep. Jamie Long
State Rep. Jamie Long
In response, Hoffman said mining companies that are sincere about fighting climate change should lobby with the MCEA for Walz’s carbon-free 2050 plan. She noted Glencore, PolyMet’s majority owner, has a massive portfolio of 26 coal mines.  

Rep. Jamie Long, a Minneapolis DFLer who is a top House negotiator on “clean energy first” and Walz’s carbon-free plan, recently told a crowd of SEIU union members that it’s a “false choice” to say Minnesota needs to mine for copper to beat global warming.

On the forefront of this divide is the BlueGreen Alliance, which includes pro-mining labor unions like the United Steelworkers and more skeptical environmental groups like the Sierra Club. Mike Williams, the BGA’s national deputy director, said they don’t have a position on PolyMet or Twin Metals, though he said Twin Metals has “substantially higher” environmental concerns.

“It’s an incredibly critical topic,” Williams said. “One, it’s contentious and it’s contentious for a reason — mining is a very intrusive and sometimes very polluting process. Two, we can’t have a modern society without these minerals and materials. And three, it does provide good jobs.”

This post has been updated to clarify Peder Mewis’ views on Minnesota Power’s role in the politics of clean energy at the Capitol.

Comments (23)

  1. Submitted by Andy Briebart on 09/11/2019 - 12:11 pm.

    If its mined in northern MN it will have more checks on safety and pollution.

    If we get our metals from Peru or Chile, its nasty, dirty, and unregulated.

    • Submitted by William Hunter Duncan on 09/13/2019 - 07:33 am.

      More like: this turns Minnesota and America into a banana republic, ie, plundered and polluted by unaccountable global elite.

      All hail foreign corporations, Patriots!

    • Submitted by Matt Haas on 09/13/2019 - 08:20 pm.

      That will be routinely ignored in favor of increased profit. For which no consequence (for the polluter)will be experienced. Such is the entire history of mining, in EVERY country.

  2. Submitted by JUDITH MONSON on 09/11/2019 - 01:30 pm.

    Thanks to Walker Orenstein for this thought-provoking article.

    It seems to me that, beneath the arguments for copper-nickel mining by Walz and others, is the unsettling presumption that we can somehow “be all things to all people.” Meaning, if we have something valuable, let’s give it up, share it with the rest of the world for the “good of future climate concerns.”

    To somehow imagine that we must keep up with Chile and Indonesia mining prospects, because we have in the U.S. more limited reserves is nonsensical. Let them have their day. Let them promote their temporary jobs. Another important question, after all, for Chile and Indonesian and all other countries is, would your mining these reserves pose possible damage to other nearby natural resources? I speak here, of course in Minnesota, for the preservation of the BWCA. This is about so much more than tourism and vacations.

    Personally, I’m not willing to trade off this pristine wilderness (and the thought of its possible harm) for more phones and car batteries, as though it’s our responsibility here in Minnesota to provide unlimited access to whatever minerals we have. Technology does not and should not rule the day. Nor should my own personal greed as to thinking I need one of every technological advances (phone or car battery or whatever) for myself, be a reasonable argument. If that means, for example, that I might need to share an electric car with my neighbors, so be it. Or get along with 2 phones in my family instead of 4? What outrageous thinking! To share one’s wealth!

    This notion, without regard to the climate change debate, that we each need to invest our personal monies in unlimited technological advances is absurd. Why, for example, doesn’t Apple or whoever makes phones come out with an updated phone every 3-5 years instead of one? And put their other resources into “saving our planet”? Corporations of all sorts have a moral responsibility in climate change, not just individuals.

    What’s even more telling is Bruce Richardson’s (Polymet spokesman) remark that whether or not such minerals would end up in the “global market” (e.g. to support needed climate change innovative materials) is uncertain — should ring an alarm bell. Polymet doesn’t have a commitment to the environment or the effects of climate change. Their commitment is to their bottom line, their piece of the “global market.” They don’t care where that mined copper and nickel go. We do. That’s so important.

    We cannot be “all things to all people,” Governor Walz. It is NOT Minnesota’s responsibility to, no matter the cost, provide the “global market” with every ounce of copper and nickel that lies underground in this state. This is not about Scandinavian Minnesota Nice or Christian benevolence.

    Nor is it anything other than a doomsday argument to panic and bemoan all the potential lost jobs in Northern Minnesota, should the copper-nickel mines not be opened. Are we so stuck-in-the-mud in our political imaginations that we can’t conceive of a Northern Minnesota economy dependent on anything else but mining? Why? Because it always has? This isn’t about the past, but the future. Why is it outrageous to think of solar panels and car batteries being made in Duluth or Baudette?

    There is no reasonable Minnesota ethic that says we must exhaust whatever natural resources we have, give them over to the highest bidding corporations (and how about that remarkable resource now exhausted, the soil, and the potential for restoring healthy soil to capture carbon — an argument, I hear you, for another day!), and give such resources over to whatever company waves the most money in front of us.

    We’ve got to get out of our “black or white” mentality about mining in Northern Minnesota, as if there are only 2 possible answers, pro- or anti- mining. Moreover, we’ve all seen the effects (including in Northern Minnesota) of having all our employer eggs in one basket. Build your local economy on the health of one industry held by one corporation — where has that gotten us throughout this country? We aren’t called the “Rust Belt” in the Midwest for no reason. Had we sought out the means of job diversity in Northern Minnesota and elsewhere, we wouldn’t be in this dilemma.

    We no longer live in a world in which each person has one career sustained by one corporation or company. Each of our children and grandchildren will move (and already are moving) from job to job (and even from career to career) several times in a lifetime. So to imagine that the copper-nickel jobs are going to be there for a lifetime for anyone is a little crazy. And when they’re gone, even if in one or more generations, as the iron mine jobs disappeared, what then? Another corporation has gone belly up. Another several hundred good-paying jobs are gone forever.

    Okay, so the iron ore is gone. Okay, so the copper and nickel will one day be depleted as well. What next? Let’s consider our alternatives, alternatives which will be changing every few years. Copper and nickel is not forever. Let’s act like we know that, and plan ahead.

  3. Submitted by Scot Kindschi on 09/11/2019 - 01:55 pm.

    This is the most ridiculous excuse yet.

  4. Submitted by Edward Blaise on 09/11/2019 - 02:57 pm.

    I’m left with this question:

    First we get:

    “the untapped Duluth Complex, which holds the world’s second largest copper deposit and its third largest nickel deposit.”

    And then a table that shows our reserves as relatively puny compared to other countries.

    A better definition of reserves would be helpful.

    • Submitted by Scot Kindschi on 09/17/2019 - 05:15 pm.

      Look at where the opinion is coming from. The truth is, that copper and nickel are two of the most plentiful things on earth, and that there are many less obtrusive sites on earth from which to get it. This is, without a doubt, one of the stupidest ideas in the history of mankind.

  5. Submitted by Phyllis Kahn on 09/11/2019 - 04:08 pm.

    My position non this has consistently been to not allow it unless the financial assurances are covered by a bond issued bt a rentable bonding company. if the mining companies can’t or won’t do this, the proposal should stop.

    • Submitted by Edward Blaise on 09/12/2019 - 09:02 am.

      Exactly!

      A very good analysis of this from MINNPOST this past May:

      https://www.minnpost.com/community-voices/2019/05/minnesotans-should-be-wary-of-polymet-projects-financials/

      It expresses that the state has done a good job on determining the amount of financial assurance needed. Guaranteeing that it will be there, not so much.

      Having some tell us the great inner peace they achieve by knowing there is a pristine wilderness they never intend to support by an actual spending visit does not cut it with folks that actually live up there. They think they know a few things about mining, iron ore and copper, and to tell them to find a nice job in the service economy is not a practical answer.

      The middle ground is to allow it; but, only if there are iron (copper?) clad guarantees that the financial assurances will be there regardless of the financial futures of PolyMet and Glencore.

      And the likely truth of this is that they won’t offer that and the project will not go forward. Environmentalists will be happy and the folks on the iron range will have to grudgingly acknowledge that another greedy mine owner has screwed them over and not their state and its’ elected officials. As close to a win/win as we are going to get in this situation.

  6. Submitted by Joe Musich on 09/11/2019 - 04:13 pm.

    I wish there would be more articles written to the point mentioned..”The CDA says without copper, electrical equipment like motors and cables would use 20 percent more materials. Copper can also be recycled time and again.
    and ….”…Reduce, reuse, recycle….”
    so how much of copper is currently recycled and reused now ?
    How well are doing with reduced the use of electrical energy which would directly relate to the need for raw materials.?
    The number of jobs produced we already know will be very limited.
    As to the title….”….Should we mine copper and nickel in Minnesota … to help defeat climate change?….” might be better stated “Will or even Can Copper and Nickel Mining in Minnesota Defeat Climate Change ?”

  7. Submitted by Julie Stroeve on 09/11/2019 - 06:39 pm.

    It’s pretty late in the game to bring in all these invested interests to support copper nickel mining. And too little to address the underlying question: Will copper nickel mining companies be required to establish safe mining practices and will they be required to clean up mining disasters when they occur and will the be required to pay for cleaning up mining disasters they cause — which is almost a certainty. Minnesota taxpayers have no stomach for footing a multi-national’s bill for environmental destruction.

  8. Submitted by Elanne Palcich on 09/11/2019 - 06:48 pm.

    Copper-nickel mining is anything but “green.” Hardrock mining is energy intensive–requiring huge amounts of energy to blast and dig out the mineral bearing rock, crush, grind, process, and transport. Out of all of this, PolyMet’s would produce 99% waste rock.
    In addition, such mining uses tremendous amounts of water, depletes aquifers, and pollutes water supplies with toxic heavy metals, processing chemicals, and acid mine drainage.
    If we want to reduce carbon release, we need to preserve wetlands and forests, and keep our low-grade highly disseminated metals in the ground.
    Instead we are destroying the planet while trying to save it.

  9. Submitted by C.A. Arneson on 09/11/2019 - 09:44 pm.

    Missing from the discussion is that the Duluth Complex has been labeled one of the world’s “largest” or “biggest” deposits in the world, without ever addressing the fact that it is a disseminated deposit, meaning copper, for instance, is spread out at very low percentages throughout the deposit.

    The Duluth Complex may be large, or big, but when all is said and done, it is not rich. It is marginal economically; which means companies will do everything they can to avoid taking responsibility for the liability. Make them put billions in the bank (the only thing they cannot wiggle out of) for financial assurance and watch them run away. Talk is cheap.

    The Duluth Complex has been compared to Norilsk in Russia; Norilsk is a high-grade deposit with ores “containing up to 32% copper” (note: no decimal point). The Duluth Complex does not even come close.

    While the percentages may have changed somewhat since it was written, an often quoted document concerning the Duluth Complex puts its Spruce Road deposit at .59% Copper (Cu), Maturi deposit at .70% Cu, Nokomis deposit at .62% Cu, Birch Lake deposit at .59% Cu, Serpentine deposit at .41% Cu, Mesaba deposit at .43% Cu, NorthMet deposit at .28% Cu, Wetlegs deposit at .57% Cu equiv. and Wyman Creek at .30% Cu.

    Disseminated low-grade copper-nickel sulfide deposits equate to extremely high-waste, perpetual water pollution, and massive destruction of forests, waters, wetlands and peat bogs that are absolutely critical to the future of Minnesota in the battle against climate change.

    • Submitted by Nicky Noel on 09/12/2019 - 03:06 pm.

      I wanted to bop in about peat, as well! I would be super curious to see the climate impacts of the expected destruction of massive amounts of peat, which is a significant carbon sink in Minnesota. When you weigh the carbon of the energy used throughout the mine’s life in combination with the lost carbon sinks due to industrial development, I think the case for this mine helping to fight climate change is overblown at best and laughable at worst.

      • Submitted by C.A. Arneson on 09/13/2019 - 06:09 pm.

        You should find this article as interesting as I did.

        Ultimate bogs/ how saving peatlands could help save the planet | Environment | The Guardian

  10. Submitted by gloria flor on 09/11/2019 - 09:52 pm.

    This is nothing more than creating a false dilemma to advocate necessity of cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face. It is this incessant demand that the only way to “fix” our broken world is to harm it even further. For what? More gadgets with built-in obsolescence? Faster internet for higher prices? The consumption addiction has to stop–use less resources, re-use, recycle, re-purpose, find alternate lifestyles that do not support wasteful use, downsize your “wants” and live accordingly to what helps heal the planet instead of harming it. Modify eating habits, carpool, minimalize your wardrobe, buy with conscious intent to avoid disposables and one-time use items. How badly do you want to be part of the solution that refuses to accept any further unnecessary harm of the earth? Because that is what mining is–unnecessary. There are far too many viable solutions beyond the false dilemma. Solutions that we can all together be a part of and BONUS–keep our air, land and water clean for generations to come. Imagine all the savings in healthcare costs? Health is wealth that cannot be found in a tailings pit, razed forest or polluted ocean.

  11. Submitted by joe smith on 09/12/2019 - 08:06 am.

    This has been a “not in my backyard “ issue since the start decades ago. The fact that everyone uses copper/nickel daily is not lost and I think it is hilarious that the mining industry is throwing “green” back at the anti mining folks. Bottom line, everyone uses and needs copper/nickel. The only question is where do you want to mine it at. Much easier for the “green” folks to use these metals dug out of the ground elsewhere with little or no regulations, than locally. Out of site out of mind. Not to mention all the good paying jobs right here on the Range.

    • Submitted by Edward Blaise on 09/12/2019 - 11:02 am.

      “Right here on the range”

      As someone living on the range what do you see as local opinion if a “practical financial assurance” amount is pretty much agreed to and PolyMet refuses to provide security beyond PolyMet’s ability to secure it: Example, if PolyMet goes down and the assurances go away, would you still support moving ahead knowing that possibility?

    • Submitted by C.A. Arneson on 09/13/2019 - 09:32 pm.

      This is a “not in a water-saturated complex” issue. Metallic sulfide mining on such a scale has never been done successfully in a matching environment. Minnesota is not an experiment.

      Minnesota’s so-called strong regulations are a myth, emasculated with variances, limits left out of permits, lack of enforcement, and industry led legislation that weakens standards.

      Regulations do not mine. Corporations do. If a company mines poorly because regulations are inadequate, instead of mining to best practices regardless, is that a company we want anywhere near Minnesota?

      Glencore and Antofagasta have two of the worst environmental and human rights abuse records in the industry. They would not suddenly care because of a regulation; they would just find ways around them.

      After all, Minnesota has never held a mining company truly accountable.

      For example, in 2010, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) had the opportunity to restore groundwater at the LTV/PolyMet plant site. The Center for Biological Diversity, Save Lake Superior Association, and the Indigenous Environmental Network had filed “an intent to sue” against Cliffs Erie (Cliffs Natural Resources) for hundreds of water quality violations at its LTV and Dunka sites, equating to millions of dollars in fines. Biological Diversity’s “intent to sue” listed 309 violations of the permit limits (five years of violations). Multiplying just the 309 violations by the maximum fine allowed, $37,500 per violation per day, the total maximum penalty – had Cliffs been subjected to fines – would be approximately $12 million. If the calculations also included additional amounts for many of those violations that were monthly, thus multiplied by 30, the total maximum penalty would have been off the charts. For example, one violation at $37,500 per day for 30 days would be an additional maximum penalty of $1,125,000 added to the $12 million total.

      Instead, the MPCA intervened and wrote a consent decree for $58,000; Cliffs made some modifications, a study was done resulting in recommendations, Cliffs asked for a variance, and the MPCA complied.

      Regulatory capture.

      In 2019, the state’s answer is to cover up LTV’s existing pollution with PolyMet’s “new pollution.” Including “burying” the inherent arsenic problem at the LTV tailings basin, which apparently was never publicly disclosed or discussed in PolyMet’s Environmental Impact Statement. https://www.minnpost.com/community-voices/2019/09/in-minnesota-when-it-comes-to-pro-sulfide-mining-rhetoric-look-for-what-is-missing/

    • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 09/14/2019 - 11:04 am.

      Two things regarding Joe’s comment.

      First, you’re suddenly very trusting of the government and it’s regulatory regime I notice. For a guy who always criticizing the government that’s an interesting twist.

      Second, the issue here isn’t a shortage of copper, or the need for copper, the issue is extracting copper without destroying the environment in the process.

      It may be possible to mine copper safely for a cost, but mining companies don’t want to pay THAT cost, which tells us it will NOT be mined safely.

      The problem with Khan’s approach is that reparative costs and measure, even if their properly funded by a mining company, only take effect after damage is done. One possible problem with THAT is it’s not clear that any damage can always BE repaired. After the fact guarantee’s, even if reliably funded, may not yield repair. And of course thus far such guarantees have always turned out to be illusions.

      At best we have a “centrist” policy that assumes if no one’s happy they must be doing something right. At worse, we have regulators who’ve been captured by those they’re supposed to regulating.

  12. Submitted by William Hunter Duncan on 09/13/2019 - 07:37 am.

    Such would be the cost of the glorious renewable “green” society that otherwise looks just like this one…15 or 20 tailings ponds scattered throughout the Arrowhead leeching acid and heavy metals into the Boundary Waters and Lake Superior, in perpetuity.

  13. Submitted by Sheryl Casey on 09/17/2019 - 04:17 pm.

    I think this article may be misleading in that there’s an apparent contradiction in what the copper reserves table shows and the statement that the Duluth Complex holds the world’s largest copper deposit.

    The purity of copper in the Duluth Complex is only 0.3%! I wonder if it isn’t the world’s largest deposit because we’ll have to dig up the most waste rock in order to entract our paultry amounts of copper and nickel.

    I agree with Kathryn Hoffman’s statement from the MPCA: PolyMet and Twin Metals would be “barely a bug on the windshield of the global copper market” if built. An increase of a capacity at existing mines could “dwarf the effects of PolyMet.”

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