September 30, 2012

As I talk to our customers, both in state and out of state, I am realizing that very few are aware of the real environmental threat this area is facing – copper nickel sulfide mining.  I am assuming you come to the Ely area because you love the wilderness area-the pristine environment, peaceful and beautiful landscape, the wild nature of the surroundings.  If so, it would be worth taking a minute to learn about this issue.  I am going to give a brief overview, with links to sites for further information. I could say MUCH more, but I want you to read this.

Ely is part of Minnesota’s Iron Range, where iron ore mining has been a big provider of jobs for many, many years.  Ely also sits on one of the largest deposits of copper, nickel, platinum, pallidium and silver in the world.  These metals are used in cellphones, IPads, Ipods, and many other items we all use daily.  The difference is that iron ore mining and copper nickel mining are very different.  The waste rock from these mining processes are put into “holding ponds”.  The amount of waste rock is huge.  A mining engineer told me that for every ton of rock, only about 20 lbs  contains the copper and other non-iron minerals.  This means 1800 pounds of rock is waste.  Once this sulfide rock is exposed to air and water, it leaches sulfuric acid and causes acid mine drainage that kills everything downstream.  The process also liberates arsenic, mercury and other heavy metals into the water.  ALLof these “holding ponds” leak. Even the iron mining tailings ponds leak.  If the technology exists to create non-leaking ponds, the mining industry does not or is not required by law to use it.

There are two main mining companies drilling thousdands of test holes in this area.  One is situated to pollute the Ely area watershed, which flows north to Hudson Bay; the other would pollute the Lake Superior watershed.  The industry cannot point to one enironmentally safe copper mine IN THE WORLD.  Unfortunately , the mining companies are at all times negotiating for lower standards, less oversight  and fast-tracking of permits. The Dept of Natural resources and the MN Pollution Control Agency do not adequately enforce the existing environmental miining regulations, as poor as they are.  We have a friend who worked for the MPCA in water quality who quit because of this issue.  Politicians at all levels of goverment are so eager for jobs in their  districts that they are compromising the health and wealth of citizens and communities.

The mining companies are making lots of promises about jobs, but the reality is that mining is a boom or bust business.  When the ore is gone (usually in about 20-25 years), they are gone, leaving a toxic waste mess to be dealt with in perpetuity, paid for by your taxes. The mines promise to set aside money for the perpetual upkeep of the waste disposal, but how much and for how long?  No one is saying.

Anyway, I cannot believe that people are willing to ignore the science on this issue; they choose to believe that multinational corporations are putting their best interests first, and won’t even entertain the “prove it first” scenario, whereby the industry shows us that it can be done safely before we allow it.  If the price of copper fell, the mining companies would be out of here so fast  your head would spin.   Wisconsin refused to let the same type of mining in for just these reasons

An old Cree prophesy that seems appropriate here:

“When all the animals have been hunted, when all the waters are polluted, when all the air is unsafe to breathe,  only then will you discover that you cannot eat money.”

For further information:  (Friends of the Boundary Waters)  (  (Water Legacy) – click on mining (Mn Center for Environmental Advocacy)

What you can do:

Keep in touch with the environmental groups working on this issue for more info on what you can do.

Call or email our Senators:  Amy Klobuchar  MN office 612-727-5220   DC 202-224-3244

Al Franken  MN office 651-221-1016  DC  202-224-5641

You can email them from their senate websites.