Weighing in on Sulfide Mining

by Laura Humes

The topic of sulfide mining has become a hot topic of debate among environmental advocacy groups and mainstream media alike. Two proposed mines in our state and a bill making its way through Congress have brought the issue of sulfide mining close to home for Minnesotans.

Industry groups, like MiningMinnesota, argue sulfide mining “will provide thousands of jobs for Minnesotans and billions of dollars in economic benefit.” In reality, the number of jobs and benefits are often exaggerated. The benefits of this new type of mining will only provide short-term gains that will be eventually outweighed by the environmental, social, and economic costs of sulfide mining, including acid mine drainage, water contamination, mercury poisoning in fish and other wildlife, reduced tourism and recreational opportunities, and more. What other impacts would sulfide mining have on Minnesota’s natural areas and communities?

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In many states where sulfide mining projects have been implemented, acid mine drainage led to unprecedented pollution of surrounding water. A recent article in the Star Tribune reported that the environmental review for PolyMet mine found that the proposed mine would generate pollution that would remain in the water system for 500 years.

Contamination presents not only environmental costs, but economic costs as well. In the case of the Brohm sulfide mine in South Dakota, the mining company declared bankruptcy when faced with the hefty charge of cleaning up contamination. Because of the bankruptcy filing, the government was forced to declare the area a Superfund site, drawing from American taxpayer dollars to fund the expensive cleanup. Who really benefits from sulfide mining, and who bears the costs?

In response to the threat of sulfide mining in Minnesota, news sources and advocacy groups alike have voiced their opposition to the new sulfide mining proposals. MinnPost, MPR, and the Star Tribune have all granted extensive coverage to sulfide mining, and have brought these issues to the attention of Minnesota’s citizens. Op-eds in the Star Tribune have debated the issue back and forth throughout the summer.

The Sierra Club, along with advocacy groups like MiningTruth, Friends of the Boundary Waters, and Minnesotans Concerned for Sulfide Mining Communities have taken action to prevent sulfide mining from taking place in this state, and have helped to increase overall awareness of the threat of sulfide mining on the environment and communities.

A September poll found that as Minnesotans learn more about the proposed mining projects, they increasingly oppose them. The results showed a 32%-28% margin for opposing the mines, with the other 40% unsure. When asked whether mining should be prohibited in areas where toxic runoff could enter the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, 75% of respondents statewide answered a resounding “no.” What are your reasons for supporting or opposing sulfide mining?

How might sulfide mining impact your community? What kinds of changes would sulfide mining bring about? How do you feel about the proposed sulfide mining projects being planned in the state, and what can we do about it? Weigh in below.

Laura Humes is a student at Macalester College with a passion for conservation, sustainability, and community activism.

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