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Protecting Minnesota’s Waters Once More

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I wrote this editorial on sulfide mining last year while in Montana, but unfortunately its wisdom has not yet convinced everyone to stop everything. Today, Don Shelby writes that the former BP CEO Tony Hayward, famous for being terribly insensitive during the worst ecological disaster in US history, has been hired to oversee environment and safety on the new sulfide mining project in northern MN. So I thought I’d try again.

Protecting Minnesota’s Waters Once More:

Minnesota has shown its commitment to clean water. We recognize the importance of protecting our natural resources, and as a result passed the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment to honor and value our waters and wetlands. Our vote to protect our waters passed, but in response, our legislators are finding new ways to harm that which we have voiced a desire to protect. The most serious of these threats regards sulfate contamination and mining.

Several companies, the furthest along of which is the PolyMet Mining Corporation, now propose to open sulfide mines—metal extraction from rocks embedded with sulfide bearing ores—throughout the Arrowhead. Such mines would be the first of the kind in our state. Long have iron ore mines operated in the region, but sulfide mining presents a much more serious problem than rust. Sulfide mining means sulfuric acid and damage to aquatic ecosystems and wildlife–especially our state’s wild rice–as well as pollution of drinking and recreational waters.

Despite the water protections in Minnesota and the assurances of these companies, this pollution will find its way into the natural systems. It always does. It has happened in New Mexico, Montana, Nevada, South Dakota and elsewhere. The examples are readily available, yet we continue along a path that will lead to the contamination of the very resources we have declared our intent to protect.  It would be devastating, for example, to see the mistakes of the Brohm Mine of Deadwood, South Dakota reoccur in Minnesota’s beloved Boundary Waters and Superior National Forest.

After a year of operation, the Brohm mine was ordered by the state of South Dakota to cease its operation due to major cyanide leaks. It was eventually permitted to reopen and spent a decade spilling sulfuric acid into nearby waters. When the location was mined out, the operation closed. S.D. Gov. Bill Janklow sought to hold Dakota Mining financially responsible for cleaning up their mess.  The company’s president, Alan Bell, filed for bankruptcy and avoided any cost to the company for cleanup. The Brohm mine is now a Superfund site, and taxpayers across the U.S. are paying the bill. Shortly after the bankruptcy, reports the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Bell was appointed to board of the Polymet Mining Corporation.

Residents, especially our legislators, should find little common ground in the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment Minnesota has adopted, and these proposed sulfide mines. The citizens of Minnesota have shown we are willing to look beyond ourselves for the good of our state and the future. Minnesota’s government must do the same and keep the terrible legacy of sulfide mining from tarnishing our state.

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Written by Christopher ZF

July 26, 2011 at 11:15