The proposed sulfide mines near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness are doing nothing but risking the future of the forest.
The BWCA, located in northern Minnesota, has been a national treasure for 37 years, with conservation efforts in the area dating back over 100 years. We cannot let 100 years of hard work and dedication to wilderness protection in the Boundary Waters simply slip through our fingers. The lives of so many environmentalists, writers, and politicians alike have been dedicated to the cause of protecting the Boundary Waters, that their work deserves to be respected as we revisit the issues over the BWCA today.
The simple fact of sulfide mining is that a mine has yet to be operated safely and closed for 10 years without leaks or EPA violations. This means, in effect, that safe sulfide mining has never been done before. Wisconsin has a law currently enacted called the “Prove It First” Mining Moratorium Law that bans all sulfide mining until an example of a successful safe mine can be presented. No sulfide mines have opened since that law passed; there are no examples of this type of mining going well for the environment.
Acid mine drainage from sulfide mines occurs when the waste rock (called tailings) comes in contact with air or water. This contact results in the production of sulfuric acid, an extremely corrosive acid. When the acid is not properly contained, it might leak into a nearby lake or stream, contaminating the water system, and poisoning all wildlife it encounters.
The BWCA, is made up of over 1,000 lakes that are almost all interconnected, so just one sulfuric acid spill from a tailings pond in the watershed of the Boundary Waters would be catastrophic for all of the diverse ecosystems that inhabit the 1 million acre watershed of the BWCA. Do we think that the BWCA watershed should be a testing ground for a mining operation that is historically one of the most environmentally destructive?
Of course there is a possibility that the mine will be perfectly safe. There is the possibility that the liner of the tailings pond will last it’s projected 500 year life, but a lot can happen in 500 years. To put it in perspective, 500 years ago, the only people who knew about the Boundary Waters were Native Americans. The Mayflower hadn’t even landed yet. There was no way that the settlers on the Mayflower could have predicted the problems that their descendents would face today in the 21st century. How can a mining company predict the problems that will arise 500 years into the future? The USA hasn’t even been a country for half as long as PolyMet and Twin Metals promise to keep their mine facilities safe. A 500 year promise is impossible to keep because it can’t be accounted for financially.
A financial promise this large has been estimated by the EPA to be exceeding $3.5 billion. The problem with PolyMet in particular is that they don’t currently have a source of income. Their only revenue comes from their investors, the biggest of which, Glencore, is based out of Switzerland and is the 13th largest company in the world (bigger than Apple and General Motors). Glencore, raking in $239 billion annually, definitely would have the resources to be able to insure the safety of the mine, but when the PolyMet mine’s total projected revenue over 20 years would only be around $1 billion, and Glencore is legally able to withdraw all of their money from PolyMet at any point in time, it does not seem like money motivated mega company Glencore has any incentive to remain invested in a company like PolyMet once it no longer becomes profitable. After making a profit for 20 years, PolyMet is likely to lose it’s investors and go bankrupt.
This would shift the financial burden of long term water monitoring and treatment from PolyMet on to the taxpayers. We do not believe that the taxpayers are responsible for paying any fraction of the $3.5 billion, and as shown by the record setting 52,000 public comments during hearings about the mines, the taxpayers don’t want to pay any more taxes either.
With the implementation of our bill, we would eliminate the environmental risk of wiping out the valuable, diverse ecosystems in the Boundary Waters watershed, and we would eliminate the financial risk for the hard working, tax paying citizens of the great state of Minnesota. Now isn’t that something everyone can agree on?