Rigorous standards will ensure clean minesFrom President Obama to Gov. Mark Dayton, elected officials have made jobs a top priority. In Minnesota, one thing is certain: There is no better opportunity for creating thousands of great-paying jobs, providing millions of dollars in tax revenue for local governments and generating more than $2 billion in royalties for our schools than the proposed copper/nickel strategic metals mineral development projects.
By: Frank Ongaro, Duluth News Tribune
From President Obama to Gov. Mark Dayton, elected officials have made jobs a top priority. In Minnesota, one thing is certain: There is no better opportunity for creating thousands of great-paying jobs, providing millions of dollars in tax revenue for local governments and generating more than $2 billion in royalties for our schools than the proposed copper/nickel strategic metals mineral development projects.
Mining already represents 30 percent of our region’s Gross Domestic Product (tourism is 11 percent). And, with the development of these strategic metals projects, we easily can double the size and benefit of the overall mining industry in Minnesota.
Fortunately, we can have these jobs and the spin-off economic benefits they bring — and an environment with clean air and water. There is no debate. We all want the same thing: clean air and clean water.
Some anti-mining groups have been asking questions about keeping our water safe, safeguards and reclamation for leaving a clean site and protection for all of us as taxpayers. Their questions are good ones. Fortunately for all Minnesotans, the state and federal governments have a comprehensive system of statutes, rules, standards and enforcement authority already in place to address all of the concerns.
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and the federal Environmental Protection Agency have many specific water-quality standards and regulations. Companies will be required to have designs and controls in place to meet these comprehensive water-quality and air-quality standards, assuring clean and safe water.
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers require a thorough environmental review of potential impacts, and they mandate safeguards to both prevent pollution and to reclaim all mining and processing activity: from the mines to the tailing basins to the waste rock to wetland restoration to the re-vegetation of disturbed ground to closure and to post-closure maintenance. All companies are required to demonstrate they have the necessary safeguards in place and leave the site clean.
As for the taxpayers: Not only will they be protected, they will benefit from significant financial gains from strategic metals development. Payroll and sales taxes will go to the state. Net-proceed taxes benefit local
governments. And royalties go to the School Trust Fund, providing revenue to every school district in Minnesota.
In addition, our strong financial-assurance requirements in Minnesota assure taxpayers are protected from being financially responsible for any cleanup. The state requires mining companies to have bankruptcy-proof financial assurance in place to cover all possible environmental cleanup costs before it issues a permit. The financial assurance also must be continuously in place, be available to the state at all times, and is adjusted annually by the state. Minnesota also has the authority to deny or revoke a permit if a company does not comply.
Our environmental-review and permitting process in Minnesota — set up by all stakeholders, including environmental groups — is comprehensive, open, transparent and invites citizen participation at every step. We in the mining industry encourage everyone to learn the facts of each project as they go through rigorous review and participate in the open process.
As projects go through this environmental-review and permitting process, each and every project will be required to demonstrate it will meet or exceed Minnesota’s strict air- and water-quality standards in order to receive a permit to mine. If a project cannot, it will not receive a permit. If it can, it will receive a permit.
Finally, these same anti-mining groups support mandates for increasing alternative energy supplies like wind and solar. Great. Bring it on. This is a perfect example of the growth in demand for these metals we use every day of our lives. There are literally tons of copper in each large wind turbine; and hybrid and electric cars, for example, can require up to twice as much copper and nickel than a regular automobile. And that’s not mentioning the metals like platinum that are required for catalytic converters in every vehicle, helping to remove harmful air emissions.
So the answer to the questions is a resounding yes: We will protect our water. Companies are required to leave sites clean. And taxpayers are more than protected; they will benefit. The safeguards are in place.
We can have a win-win-win situation. We can mine the metals here in Minnesota, do it with Minnesota jobs and be an example to the world of the best method of responsible development of our natural resources.
If a company demonstrates it will meet our strict standards, protecting air and water quality, all Minnesotans should say yes to strategic metals mining and the jobs it brings. As true environmentalists, we should all get behind a project that meets or exceeds standards and hold it up as an example for environmentally responsible mining both domestically and globally.
Frank Ongaro is executive director of Duluth-based MiningMinnesota (miningminnesota.com), which supports the development of metals mining in the state.