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In response: Northland doesn’t need more mining pollution

In response to Harlan Christensen’s June 20 “Local View” commentary (“Compromise needed to solve Minnesota’s EPA, mining dilemmas”) the only “war” being waged is one to protect the children of Minnesota from toxic metal exposures.

If the mining industry cared about the welfare of our children it would meet air- and water-quality standards instead of operating under variances, consent decrees, expired permits, or permits without limits — and instead of trying to weaken the standards we have in place. We need to uphold and enforce our sulfate standard. For our children. And ourselves.

Instead we have PolyMet shareholders like Christensen who seems willing to pocket profits while the water of generations is poisoned in the St. Louis River watershed. Christensen knows the largest source for mercury emissions and sulfates in the Lake Superior Basin is Minnesota taconite mines. He knows the coal-fired power plants to which they are inextricably linked add more mercury and sulfates to our air, land and waters. The mining industry is Minnesota Power’s biggest client, accounting for about half of its revenue. Together they can pay for their own cleanup.

Depending on how you look at it, Minnesota Power’s single-largest mining customer uses more energy than all of its residential customers combined — or more than the city of Duluth, including all industrial, residential and business use. Minnesota Power’s entire mining sector uses about twice the energy of Duluth, or five times as much as the city of Superior; some of the biggest electrical loads in the nation are on the Mesabi Range, Minnesota Power officials have said. Proposed sulfide mining operations will demand more electrical power than does taconite. Whose need for electricity does Minnesota Power feed?

Substantial local mercury emissions are more serious in Northeastern Minnesota than global emissions; low stack heights at taconite plants affect local watershed deposition. In 2010, an international team of scientists conclusively found that changes in mercury emissions would make a difference in the mercury levels in fish: “The USGS-led portion of the study evaluated linkages between terrestrial (soil) pools of mercury and the downslope lake,” the U.S. Geological Survey reported. “Our results show that fish mercury levels in aquatic ecosystems that predominantly receive mercury inputs from direct atmospheric deposition will respond rapidly and significantly to reductions in mercury loading. Ecosystems that receive significant mercury contributions from watershed runoff, however, will respond more slowly over extended time periods, and recovery may be decades to centuries.”

We already have heard for decades that the mining industry is going to clean up its act, but our agencies keep allowing one corporate or political excuse after another while we continue to subsidize the mining industry with our health. Now Christensen is telling us we need sulfide mining in order to clean up coal-fired power plants — to pay for the cleanup! Create more pollution to clean up pollution? Give me a break.

Think what billions of tons of sulfide mining waste could do to a poisonous cocktail of acid, metals and other toxins in our watersheds. How much of it could end up in Duluth and its drinking water supply? And Duluth was just designated as the best outdoors city in the U.S.

We do not need more mining; we need to clean up and end existing mining pollution.

That would be a compromise and long overdue. Actually, it’s too late for those who already have died from mesothelioma or whose health or intellect has been irreparably damaged, particularly the most vulnerable among us, our children.

Carla Arneson of Ely is an informed and outspoken critic of copper mining in Northeastern Minnesota.