Copper mining skeptics rally in DuluthEnvironmental groups rallied on Duluth’s Lake Superior waterfront Thursday morning, making public thousands of signatures calling for tougher scrutiny of proposed copper mining in Northeastern Minnesota.
By: John Myers, Duluth News Tribune
Environmental groups rallied on Duluth’s Lake Superior waterfront Thursday morning, making public thousands of signatures calling for tougher scrutiny of proposed copper mining in Northeastern Minnesota.
Environment Minnesota showed off nearly 10,000 signatures of Minnesotans opposing copper mining, while Water Legacy members said they have nearly 4,200 petition signatures calling on the federal Environmental Protection Agency to step in and protect Lake Superior and the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.
The EPA will have a major role in coming months deciding whether proposed mining plans are protective enough to move ahead.
Jake Albright, a campaign coordinator for Environment Minnesota, said the signatures were gathered by volunteers who have fanned out across several cities in Minnesota, including Rochester, Duluth, St. Cloud and the Twin Cities.
The petitions come as opponents step up a public awareness campaign to thwart what would be Minnesota’s first copper mines, and the event was timed to coincide with the region’s busiest tourist season.
Several companies are eying copper, nickel, platinum and other valuable metals underground across the Arrowhead region.
PolyMet Minerals is farthest along, in the midst of a revised environmental review that will be made public for comments later this year. The company plans an open pit mine and processing center near Hoyt Lakes that will employ 350 people.
Another company, Twin Metals, has plans to build a massive underground
copper-nickel mine southeast of Ely, just outside the BWCAW.
Mining supporters say the region’s expansion into copper mining will bolster employment and pump millions into the Northeastern Minnesota economy as well as state tax coffers. They say the copper can be mined and processed with no long-term environmental problems, noting mines will be required to comply with state water-quality standards as well as set aside money to clean up any problems.
“We don’t see any debate here. We all want the same thing: Clean air and clear water,” said Frank Ongaro, executive director of the Mining Minnesota industry trade group. “We already have tough scrutiny of all mining projects through a review process that they (environmental groups) helped set up. The standards are in place. Now let’s let them work.”
Opponents say the promise of jobs is being overstated and that the cyclical booms spurred by mining won’t be worth the potential environmental harm caused by the acidic runoff that often accompanies copper mining. Unlike iron ore, copper is locked inside rock that often is high in sulfur, the runoff from which opponents say could also increase mercury levels in streams and fish.