Minnesota can have both mining and clean water

I am writing this in response to C.A. Arneson’s commentary on 12/12/17 concerning copper nickel mining in northeast Minnesota.

The first point I would like to counter is concerning Rep. Rick Nolan’s bill HR 3115.  Nolan’s bill is wholly designed to make sure that a land exchange between the U.S. Forest Service goes through in regard to the NorthMet Mine located outside of Hoyt Lakes. At no point is there any reference to the fact that both the U.S. Forest Service and PolyMet have agreed to the terms of the exchange already. If it wasn’t for the frivolous lawsuits filed by several environmental groups there would have been no need for HR 3115. These lawsuits claim that the land was undervalued when it was appraised. This is incorrect because PolyMet already owns the mineral rights to the land and the only thing of value is the timber on the land. Currently the land is valued at $550 an acre, which PolyMet has agreed to pay. Another fact: The Superior National Forest will gain more wetlands, lakeshore and readily accessible land after the exchange. This deal is a win for everyone involved.

The second point concerns Rep. Tom Emmer’s MINER Act. This bill concerns multiple things, but I am going to touch on just a few. The mineral leases involved had been issued in the 1960s and had been with several different companies over that time period. There never had been any problem concerning the reissuing of these until Twin Metals went to renew them this last time. An Environmental Impact Statement had been conducted over the period 2006 to 2012 with both the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management giving approval for test drilling in 2012. No real tangible reason was given for the nonrenewal, no due process involved at all. The MINER Act would renew the leases and give Twin Metals the fair chance at due process through NEPA once they develop a mine plan. The MINER Act also protects the Superior National Forest from unwarranted mineral withdrawals and National Monument designation without the approval of Congress. This gives local government and residents a voice in the process which was terribly missing in this whole mess. This again is a win for everyone who lives in national forests in Minnesota.

Finally let’s discuss the Tar Creek area surrounding Picher, Oklahoma. This area was mined from 1850 until the early 1960s for both lead and zinc. The time frame is very important since the mining started and ended long before environmental protections were even thought of, let alone in place. So comparing this mining area to what could maybe happen in northeast Minnesota is unrealistic at best and erroneous at the worst. How about comparing what could happen to the Stillwater Mine in Montana, Eagle Mine in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, or even closer yet the Flambeau Mine in Wisconsin. All of these have one common thread. They have NO pollution violations against them.

In closing, PolyMet has and is going through the most extensive permitting process ever undertaken in America. It has been ongoing for 13-plus years and is finally in the actual permit to mine stage. Twin Metals hasn’t even developed a plan yet and deserves the right to due process. Northeast Minnesota needs these well-paying jobs so that our area can thrive again. We believe that you can have both mining and clean water.

Michael Cole is the CEO of Minnesota Miners. 

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Comments (2)

  1. Submitted by joe smith on 12/15/2017 - 07:06 am.

    Unfortunately there is no right

    to due process anymore in our society. Trying to tell folks who are anti-mining that there is a permitting process that a company will either pass or fail, falls on deaf ears. My favorite is a person who lives on a lake up, as I do, who reads a couple anti-mining articles suddenly knows better than a chemical engineer. If Polymet passes the permitting process they should be allowed to mine…. Period.

  2. Submitted by Becky Rom on 12/15/2017 - 08:45 am.

    Boundary Waters and sulfide-ore copper mining

    Cole’s misses the mark on the Emmer bill and Twin Metals efforts to build a sulfide-ore copper mine next to the Boundary Waters. Facts matter.

    The 1966 mineral leases were issued without consideration of environmental impact. This is because NEPA, the federal law that stands for the proposition that we make better decisions if we first understand the potential to do environmental harm, was not yet the law of the land. The lease site was abandoned from the early 1970’s until 2006, after Duluth Metals bought the leases and began exploratory drilling, which it completed in 2014. After drilling commenced, a great deal of scientific analysis – including field research – was conducted to determine if there was potential for environmental harm if a sulfide-ore copper mine were allowed on the Superior National Forest lands in the headwaters of the Boundary Waters. The answer is a clear yes. The federal mineral leases expired on Dec. 31, 2013. In considering whether to issue renewals of these leases, the Forest Service (and the BLM) considered all of the scientific information, and heard from the people via a 30-day comment period in June-July 2016 and two public meetings (Duluth and Ely). The response from the public was overwhelming. Over 74,000 people asked the Forest Service (and the BLM) to reject the lease requests and to withdraw public lands in the headwaters from the mining leasing program for 20 years. Speakers at the public meetings agreed – by more than 2 to 1, the public said no to copper mining next to the Boundary Waters. The Forest Service record of decision is long, detailed, and fully supported by science, the public, and the law. The law says that no water degradation at all is allowed in the Boundary Waters. The law requires the Forest Service to protect the water quality of the Superior National Forest and the Boundary Waters. The only way there can be no water pollution is to ban sulfide-ore copper mining. Michael Cole should read the decision; he claims ‘No real tangible reason was given for the nonrenewable’ – The Forest Service’s decision was detailed and excellent and he will find the real tangible reasons in the decision.

    He claims the leases were denied without ‘due process.’ He might want to check the numerous news stories about the public meetings and comment period, as well as stories about the numerous meetings with people, business owners, and elected officials. This conversation was in the public forum for 3 years, covered heavily by the media, with robust public and agency engagement. The law was followed carefully; the processes that we depend on for fair consideration were fully respected. Cole might want to consider that these are public lands that belong to the people of the nation. The laws protect the rights of all people to participate in these decisions. The Forest Service and the BLM made their decisions based science, facts, and public input. The fact that he – and Twin Metals – might not like the outcome doesn’t mean there was no ‘due process.’

    The Emmer bill takes this away by overriding agency decisions, changing laws, and ignoring the will of the people. The bill grants leases to Twin Metals without the legally required environmental review and without public input. Current law requires a review before federal mineral leases can be granted to Twin Metals. The review must look at science and provide public participation. The review must also consider NOT granting the leases. Facts, science, and the public are gone under the Emmer bill. Why is this important? We are a nation of laws. The Emmer bill changes five longstanding laws to favor a single mining company that doesn’t like an outcome.

    Federal mineral leases grant the right to build mine facilities and to mine. Twin Metals knows this. In court in October, its lawyers said: ‘We own these minerals.’ And it is claiming this ownership by virtue of leases. The government only grants mineral leases after it decides that this is the right place to mine. This is the key decision. There is no other point in time when this is considered. If our public lands next to the Boundary Waters and along rivers/lakes that flow into the Wilderness are the wrong place, the time for consideration is before the grant of the leases and the right to mine. That is why the law requires this consideration before granting mineral leases that have the potential to damage a national wilderness area, and why it provides for a process to consider facts, science, and public input.

    Cole (and others) argues that the public can participate later on during the permitting phase – long after the right to mine is granted. But at this phase, the review is narrow. There is no consideration of whether a sulfide-ore mine should even be in this location. As to water pollution, water quality impacts are considered via computer modeling. The modeling assumes all mitigation works all the time no matter what, forever. It never turns out that way. A careful study of all EIS predictions for metal mines located near water shows that the modeling is wrong 9 out of 10 times, and mines that were predicted to not pollute water over water quality standards all polluted. As to the subset of modern copper mines, all were found to pollute waters.

    So this is a trick to get the leases to Twin Metals, to push a flawed process and to lock out the public from the most important decision – is this the right location for a mining district – and to support a industry that will surely despoil our public lands including our beloved Boundary Waters.

    Cole refers to a 2012 EIS. This EIS did not address mining on public lands in the headwaters of the Boundary Waters. The 2012 review related to requests for exploratory drilling on national forest lands – a different ‘right’ and different lands (not the lands Twin Metals seeks to lease). The 2012 review looked at prospecting permits – which grant limited rights to use a specific parcel of land to conduct exploratory drilling – and addressed short term impacts during the drilling phase such as noise and invasive vegetative species. It did not consider mining and the full range of environmental, economic, and social impacts of converting a well-used multiple use forest into a mining district. The current two-year EIS considers sulfide-ore mining – for the first time – and whether public lands in the Superior National Forest should be converted to an industrial mining district – a single use that would forever change the forest – or should remain a healthy, multiple use forest that is now used by Americans for recreation and commercial activities that are compatible with the legal requirement – and common sense goal – that our national forests be managed for ecological health. Do we want the Superior National Forest and the Boundary Waters to remain ecologically healthy for all people for all time? If the answer is yes, then there should be no sulfide-ore copper mining on Superior National Forest lands in the watershed of the Boundary Waters.

    The Emmer bill takes the public out of public lands. The bill grants outright perpetual leases to Twin Metals (this is a drastic change in law – under current law, leases are for 10 years). The Emmer bill is part of a larger effort to turn America’s public lands over to private commercial companies. Twin Metals – Antofagasta – would control the destiny of the Boundary Waters and the Superior National Forest, not the people.

    As to the jobs pitch by Cole, the most important economic development tool we have is the Boundary Waters. We save thousands of jobs and can build for the future if we ensure that the Superior National Forest and the Boundary Waters are protected from the most toxic industry in America (per the EPA) – hardrock mining.

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