Commentary by Steve Morse: Minnesotans back mining — if it’s safe (Star Tribune)

Posted by .

There’s solid support for strong oversight on projects like PolyMet’s.

By Steve Morse
Published Dec. 27, 2010
Star Tribune

Minnesota has a great opportunity to produce a unique legacy of job creation combined with public health protection as it examines a new kind of mining — nonferrous sulfide mining — that has been proposed for northeast Minnesota.

This is not a choice between jobs and public health. Minnesotans want and deserve both — and that’s what 701 voters told us in a postelection poll conducted Nov. 16 to 21 by a bipartisan national polling team.

However, Minnesota’s new Eighth District congressman-elect, Chip Cravaack, boasted in a Dec. 14 Star Tribune article that his first meeting after the election was with executives of the mining firm PolyMet and that one of his top priorities is to rejuvenate mining.

We urge Cravaack to proceed with caution.

We suggest that instead of holding his first meeting with the leaders of a large, foreign-owned company, he should listen first to his constituents.

Mining is a traditional part of Minnesota’s economy, producing jobs and important materials.

However, we must make sure that sulfide mining — which is different from our traditional iron-ore mining — is done without releasing its long-lasting toxic waste that threatens to contaminate everything from fish to wild rice to drinking water.

As taxpayers, we don’t want to be stuck with the bill to clean up the pollution from sulfide mining.

In other states where sulfide mining has occurred, the result has been pollution that has cost taxpayers millions of dollars to clean up over dozens of years.

We don’t want Minnesota’s experience to be like that of other states — especially when these new mines have the potential to pollute nearby lakes and rivers, including the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and Lake Superior.

Our statewide polling shows that Minnesotans support conditions for sulfide mining that will protect our lakes, rivers, streams and public health, as well as jobs and taxpayers’ wallets:

• An overwhelming 85 percent favor requiring mining companies to prove they have the financial means to clean up pollution from their mines before they begin operation.

These results hold strong across every congressional district in the state — including Cravaack’s Eighth District.

In fact, in the Eighth, 86 percent of voters want this condition, compared with 79 percent in the Twin Cities’ often-more-liberal Fourth and Fifth Districts, where residents have not had the firsthand experience of working with large mining companies.

The support is also bipartisan: 85 percent voters across the state who say they supported Mark Dayton for governor and 87 percent of those who say they voted for Tom Emmer want this protection.

• On another question, a strong 81 percent of Minnesota voters statewide — and 82 percent in the Eight District — also support better enforcement of existing regulations on mine operators and don’t want those regulations weakened or rolled back.

The support for both of these measures holds true regardless of political party, gender or age. Minnesotans know that reducing environmental safeguards to allow mining company expansion is not a good tradeoff.

In a state where we so highly value clean water, it only makes sense for mining companies to demonstrate credible financial means to clean up toxic pollution from their mines before they begin operations; that existing state laws to protect the environment, public health and taxpayers’ wallets are fully enforced, and that recommended safeguards are implemented.

As large new mining projects move forward, we must meet the expectations of our citizens and create a heritage of jobs and clean water for Minnesotans today and tomorrow.

Steve Morse is executive director of the Minnesota Environmental Partnership, a statewide coalition of 80 nonprofit conservation and environmental organizations.

Leave a Reply

  • (will not be published)