Minnesota faces crucial decisions about whether to permit sulfide mining proposals. Mines like those proposed by PolyMet and Twin Metals are a new type of mining for Minnesota, posing serious risks. I am concerned about the risk to our water, economy, and way of life from these proposals.
Below are four questions that state leaders should be asking when deciding whether or not to permit sulfide mines for the first time in Minnesota. These questions are very simple, but they couldn’t be more important in light of the fact that no sulfide mine in the world has successfully operated and closed without polluting nearby waters.
Before Minnesota says yes to any sulfide mine, I want you, Governor Dayton, to insist that the answer to each of the following questions is an unequivocal “yes”:
1. Will Minnesota’s water stay safe and clean?
Sulfide mines have a long record of polluting surrounding lakes, rivers, streams and groundwater with mercury, acid mine drainage, and toxic metals. Mines proposed inMinnesota would pose risks to some of our most important water resources like Lake Superior and the Boundary Waters. Evidence shows that children in northern Minnesota are already exposed to higher levels of mercury than in other parts of the state. Any increased risk to these children would be unacceptable. Minnesota has rules designed to protect our water and our health. The State can’t cut corners on enforcing those rules for new sulfide mines.
2. Are there strong safeguards in place for when things go wrong?
Lots of things can and do go wrong at a copper mine. Is the mine designed to withstand weather events like the flooding in Duluth last year without releasing pollution? What happens when contamination levels turn up worse than predicted? Or in unexpected places? What if the waste treatment facility breaks down or needs extended maintenance? Has all the technology that is supposed to protect the public been tested in a real mining situation, or just on paper or on a small scale? Contingency plans should be in place, and money set aside, for all reasonably foreseeable problems so that local communities and taxpayers aren’t left with a mess that should have been prevented.
3. Will the company leave the site clean and maintenance free?
When a sulfide mine closes in Minnesota, the mining company is supposed to reclaim the area and leave it so that it doesn’t need any additional maintenance. Will that rule be enforced? Minnesota’s government shouldn’t allow mines that are likely to produce pollution and require water treatment for 50, 100, 250 or more years, after they stop mining.
4. Will Minnesota’s taxpayers be protected?
There are costs from mining pollution – and either the polluter, the taxpayers or the environment will pay. Mining companies often declare bankruptcy when metal prices fall or after the ore is depleted, and the parent companies can just walk away. Will the mining company put up a damage deposit that truly protects taxpayers and the environment from day one? Water pollution and risks to taxpayers begin as soon as the digging starts, and can last for hundreds of years. Taxpayer protection can’t wait until the digging starts and the damage is done.
These are simple, common sense questions. I’m asking you to adopt these Clean Water Principles and use them as you consider sulfide mining proposals like PolyMet and Twin Metals. Minnesota’s waters, economy, and way of life are at stake.