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NorthMet jobs come with too much risk to Minnesota environment

Can’t we think of a less risky way to get 360 “high-paying” jobs created up on the Iron Range?

The Sawtooth Mountains in northern Minnesota.
Photo by John Harrington

As many (all?) of you know, there’s a proposal for Minnesota’s first copper-nickel mine that’s the subject of a Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement. One of the major arguments in favor of allowing the proposal to proceed is that it will “create” 360 well-paying jobs.

That may seem like a lot. In fact, according to the Milwaukee Wisconsin Journal Sentinel, “Between 2000 and 2011, mining employment in Minnesota fell 25% to 4,245 jobs in 2011, according to the state’s Department of Employment and Economic Development.” So, the number of jobs “created” may disappear in the volatility of world demand (and prices) for the copper-nickel or other mined resources.

On the other hand, here’s a link to the images of copper mine pollution in the United States. Here’s a different link to nickel mine pollution. Now, here’s a link to pictures of Minnesota’s Boundary Waters. It doesn’t take much imagination to juxtapose copper-nickel mines and Boundary Waters and not like the results.

But, you say, we’ll have financial assurances from the mining corporation that the long term (hundreds of years) pollution will be “cleaned up.” Well, from the BBC comes this piece of information: “The average lifespan of a company listed in the S&P 500 index of leading US companies has decreased by more than 50 years in the last century, from 67 years in the 1920s to just 15 years today, according to Professor Richard Foster from Yale University.” Business Week reports that commercial corporations have only been in existence for about 500 years, the same amount of time pollution from the NorthMet project may require treatment. I suspect it might be a little tricky trying to collect from a non-existant entity in 200 years or so.

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I firmly believe, and have argued here before, that Minnesota, if wisely managed, can have both jobs and a beautiful, clean (if not pristine) natural environment. But, we’re already failing to meet water quality standards in much of the area that could be affected by the proposed mining project. Does anyone think the proposed project will actually improve things?

Let’s look at this from a different perspective. If Minnesota’s state government were a Fortune 500 business, and were about to make a massive long-term investment in a company responsible for meeting and maintaining water quality standards on the Iron Range for the next 500 years, would you buy stock in that company? That’s what you’re being asked to do by the mine’s proposers. Wouldn’t you think there might be a less risky way to get 360 “high-paying” jobs created up on the Iron Range? How about an aircraft maintenance facility?

This post was written by John Harrington and originally published on My Minnesota. Follow John on Twitter: @JohnHthePoet.

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