A view on mining: Industry makes big claims, but the reality is poverty, pollution
Sulfide mining never has been done anywhere without harming lakes, rivers or streams, the very lifeblood of northern Minnesota. However, recently, an unabashed pro-sulfide mining group, "Jobs for Minnesotans," has been touting pie-in-the-sky jobs...
Sulfide mining never has been done anywhere without harming lakes, rivers or streams, the very lifeblood of northern Minnesota. However, recently, an unabashed pro-sulfide mining group, "Jobs for Minnesotans," has been touting pie-in-the-sky jobs numbers and other contrived economic benefits while ignoring the current sustainable jobs that could be lost to the watershed-ruining toxic legacy sulfide mines always have left behind.
Hunting, fishing and outfitting are not boom-bust industries like mining, but perpetually sustainable activities and traditional economic strengths of our state. On the other hand, mines bear no second crop. A study of hard-rock mines around the country shows mine proposals often start out with extremely high job predictions only to have those whittled down as the design is developed, as reported by Conservation Minnesota.
A 2003 study by the Sonoran Institute looked at the relationship between the way public lands are managed in the western United States and the economic health of neighboring communities. The study discovered an "inverse relationship between resource dependence and economic growth; the more dependent a state's economy was on personal income earned from people who work in resource-extractive industries the slower the growth rate of the economy as a whole."
Poverty is higher in mining areas as well. Counties classified as dominated by mining by the U.S. Census Bureau show the highest rates of poverty of any industrial group. These poverty rates increased between 1989 and 1996, according to Conservation Minnesota.
This phenomenon of mining communities failing to prosper even when mines are operating at their peak and despite high mining wages has been noticed by researchers. "Across the United States, mining communities (are) noted for high levels of unemployment, slow rates of growth of income and employment, high poverty rates, and stagnant or declining populations," Conservation Minnesota reported in May.
One analysis compared mining-dependent counties (those where mining represented 20 percent or more of labor earnings) with those that are non-dependent. Between 1980 and 2000, "Aggregate earnings in mining-dependent counties grew at only half the rate of other American counties ... and per capita income grew about 25 percent slower," Conservation Minnesota further wrote.
"The important point to be drawn from all of these statistical results from an economic development perspective is that whatever might be said about the impact of mining on national economic development, in the U.S., these mining activities, in general, have not triggered sustained growth and development in the local regions where the mining took place," a researcher noted for Conservation Minnesota.
No analysis has been conducted to assess what impacts sulfide mining could have on our state budget. Such an assessment was performed on the impact of coal mining on the West Virginia state budget. West Virginia analyzed both the tax revenues and the expenditures associated with this industry for fiscal year 2009. That state discovered that the total impact to the West Virginia state budget was a net cost of $97.5 million, according to Conservation Minnesota.
"We don't have a healthy main street along 100 miles of the Mesabi Range," Minnesota Backcountry Hunters & Anglers member and retired miner Bob Tammen observed in a Wisconsin State Journal story published in the Feb. 10 News Tribune. "If mining brings prosperity, how come our communities don't have it?"
Sulfide mining's legacy is always the same: polluted holes in the ground and ruined watersheds. I only have one question for the sulfide mining corporation-funded puppets propping up "Jobs for Minnesotans": Is 20 years of sulfide mining jobs worth 2,000 years of poisoned waterways and watersheds that will cost millions, and possibly billions, to clean up?
David A. Lien of Colorado Springs, Colo., is a native of Grand Rapids and co-chairman of Minnesota Backcountry Hunters & Anglers .