It is said, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." I remember!
In the 1960s the Nashua River was starved of oxygen, biologically dead, and one of the ten most polluted rivers in the United States. The sludge-filled river, which flows through New Hampshire and Massachusetts, was a different color every day, depending on what was discharged that day. (Moyer 2014). I lived in Nashua in 1968 and I remember the condition of this river.
I remember Love Canal, one of the most infamous toxic waste sites, still seeping toxins 35 years later. (Associated Press 2013). I remember when the EPA Superfund was established in 1980. There are currently 1,317 Superfund sites across the U.S. including multiple sites in Minnesota(Johnson 2017) There are 21 sites that Environmental Protection Agency regulators have targeted “for immediate and intense attention.” including an abandoned copper mine in Nevada (Brady 2017)
This long-term impact results from a lack of regulation and a willingness to borrow from the future to satisfy short-term productivity. The raucous calls for deregulation express a desire to return to this model of environmental exploitation and borrow from the future of our children and our children’s children. Drilling leases, pipelines, burning coal, even killing wolves are examples of this desire to exploit the environment for personal gain and short-term goals. In Minnesota, sulfide mining is one of those critical environmental concerns.
The Twin Metals proposal, recently revived by Washington, is projecting 5.8 billion tons of copper over a thirty-year time frame, equal to 190 million tons annually. (Johnson 2017). The PolyMet proposal originally projected 69.4 million tons per annum (PolyMet Mining) but they have also suggested that would rise to 118 million tons per annum over a twenty-year time frame. (Marcotty 2018). According to the International Copper Study Group, the Global production of copper in 2017 was 19.4 million tons. ( International Copper Study Group, 2017). The two copper mining projects combined are projecting a 15 fold increase in copper production. That would certainly depress copper prices substantially in the near term until the demand for copper catches up with production. That should be a concern for investors but if the companies go bankrupt, it’s a major concern for taxpayers as well. The numbers don’t add up.
The proposal is offering rapid economic expansion over a very brief period of twenty or thirty years, while likely suppressing the ongoing economic development in other sectors of the economy. The economic consequences would be similar to what happened when the iron ore market collapsed. That alone would make it untenable as a long-term regional development plan.
The more salient issue, however, continues to be the environmental impact. Certainly, no one is suggesting draining sulfuric acid directly into the watershed. According to the reports, modern sulfide mining is 100% safe but translating engineering designs into actual production is rarely 100%. Unanticipated events and failures do occur. The Mount Polley mine disaster in British Columbia illustrates the potential and the disastrous consequences. Neither company, Twin Metals nor PolMet, has any safety track record for sulfide mining. (Kohls 2018)
What’s required, is a comprehensive policy based on long-term strategies. The economy of Minnesota’s Arrowhead region has evolved and diversified since iron ore mining diminished in the 1980’s. Any potential for short-term economic gains threatens more diversified and sustainable economic developments. This area is rich in resources for the development of renewable and sustainable initiatives in energy and agriculture. Combined with the potential for long-term environmental impact and the risk of economic failure, there is no justification to proceed with any existing sulfide mining proposal. I am categorically opposed to the PolyMet land swap proposal and sulfide mining in Minnesota.
Associated Press, November 2, 2013 | 11:03pm “Love Canal’ still oozing poison 35 years later” New York Post, Metro. Retrieved August 30, 2018, from https://nypost.com/2013/11/02/love-canal-still-oozing-poison-35-years-later/.
Brady Dennis, December 8, 2017 “EPA lists 21 toxic Superfund sites that need ‘immediate and intense’ cleanup” Washington Post, Energy and Environment. Retrieved August 30, 2018, from https://nypost.com/2013/11/02/love-canal-still-oozing-poison-35-years-later/.
International Copper Study Group, 2017 Retrieved August 30, 2018, from http://www.icsg.org/index.php/component/jdownloads/finish/165/871.
Johnson, David Updated: March 22, 2017 3:33 PM ET “Do You Live Near Toxic Waste? See 1,317 of the Most Polluted Spots in the U.S.” Time, Health. Retrieved August 30, 2018, from http://time.com/4695109/superfund-sites-toxic-waste-locations/.
Kohls, Dr. Gary G. Global Research, February 22, 2018, “British Columbia’s Mount Polley Copper Mining Disaster of 2014” Retrieved August 30, 2018, from https://www.globalresearch.ca/british-columbias-mount-polley-copper-mining-disaster-of-2014/5629028
Marcotty, Josephine, June 8, 2018 — 10:23pm “Prospect of larger PolyMet mine sparks demand for more review”, Star Tribune, Local, Retrieved August 30, 2018, from http://www.startribune.com/prospect-of-larger-polymet-mine-sparks-demand-for-more-review/485009481/.
Moyer, Ellen, Ph.D. 07/07/2014 12:46 pm “How a Housewife Transformed an Open Sewer into a Swimmable River” Huffpost, Blog. Retrieved August 30, 2018, from https://www.huffingtonpost.com/ellen-moyer-phd/nashua-river-transformed-_b_5552680.html.
Myers, John, December 22, 2017 at 4:09 pm “White House resurrects proposed Twin Metals mine near BWCA ”, Pioneer Press, News, Retrieved August 30, 2018, from https://www.twincities.com/2017/12/22/feds-keep-proposed-twin-metals-minnesota-copper-mine-plan-alive/.
PolyMet Mining > NorthMet Project > NorthMet at a Glance, “PolyMet NorthMet Project at a Glance” Retrieved August 30, 2018, from http://polymetmining.com/northmet-project/overview/