Can copper mining be done safely? Yes: Technology and regulations ensure protection of environmentWe don’t do a lot of things today that our parents or grandparents did so innocently in the past. We don’t coat our walls or cabinets with lead-based paint. We have seatbelts in our cars — and we actually use them. We recycle spent motor oil instead of dumping it on the dirt in the back alley.
By: Frank Ongaro, Duluth News Tribune
We don’t do a lot of things today that our parents or grandparents did so innocently in the past. We don’t coat our walls or cabinets with lead-based paint. We have seatbelts in our cars — and we actually use them. We recycle spent motor oil instead of dumping it on the dirt in the back alley.
Our fathers’ and grandfathers’ mistakes made us smarter in so many ways, including about mining.
The days of dig first and fix the damage (and pay) later have been replaced with years of exhaustive environmental reviews, stringent regulations, and the ability to predict with great confidence how mining and processing facilities will affect the natural environment during mining and long after it ceases.
Modern technology, practices and regulations play a bigger role in minimizing and managing the potential effects of mining than at any time in the world’s history. And Minnesota is at the forefront of this high-tech monitoring, detection and protection to safeguard our environment.
Minnesota agencies regulate some of the most stringent environmental standards in the country, including relatively new standards for the mining of metals that do not contain iron as a main ingredient, such as copper, nickel and precious metals. These standards include long-term protections in the form of financial assurances, which are now considered an integral part of overall mine management.
The need for long-term resource management isn’t unique to the mining industry. Landfills, for example, often require long-term management of gases and water. Many other industries and manufacturing facilities also are required to implement programs to comply with laws and provide long-term assurance of site conditions.
Modern mines use advanced engineering and invest heavily in monitoring and protections systems that didn’t exist when older mines began. Mining companies today spend years developing plans to ensure they are technically, operationally and financially prepared to meet every standard and regulation.
An example is the proposed PolyMet copper-nickel mine. That mine, which will create nearly 1,000 direct and indirect jobs and have more than $500 million in economic benefit annually, will reuse and reclaim the former LTV Steel Mining site near Hoyt Lakes. Project developers have been consulting with state and federal agencies and working on a plan for nearly 10 years to fully comply with the law.
PolyMet will be required to meet clean-water standards during operations and long after the mine closes using technology that’s available today. The company will use reverse osmosis — a widely used and proven technology — to monitor, test and create clean water that meets government-set water-
quality standards and the strict sulfate standard that protects wild rice. It’s the same technology used commonly to clean community drinking water supplies.
Financial safeguards also are in place with existing regulations, requiring PolyMet to produce clean water for as long as it takes and with built-in funding mechanisms so we as taxpayers don’t pick up the tab, even if the company no longer exists.
As a native Iron Ranger, and like most Minnesotans, I respect, appreciate and take great pride in our state’s beautiful natural resources. I want and expect nothing less for my children and grandchildren.
Copper-nickel mining presents Minnesota with an unprecedented opportunity for growth and prosperity in our regional economy. We have the technology we need and sound regulations in place to protect our water and Minnesota taxpayers now and far into the future.
We can mine without compromising the values we as Minnesotans hold dear.
Frank Ongaro is executive director of Mining Minnesota, a Duluth-based copper-mining trade group.