In Response: Minnesota mining reviews are not excessively long

From the column: "A dedicated group of scientists, attorneys, and front-line community members have pushed hard to get an unreasonable, unreliable, and dangerous mine plan rejected."

The PolyMet project still is facing court challenges. (2006 file / News Tribune)

I was interested to read the News Tribune’s Jan. 11 editorial regarding Rep. Pete Stauber’s attempts to fast-track mining in our state (Our View: “ More-reasonable mining reviews are needed ”). I thought I would add context to what was papered over in the editorial.

The editorial claimed the PolyMet mining proposal as a “maddening example of an anti-business, anti-(mining) industry, excessive permitting process.”

I suggest it is not. A dedicated group of scientists, attorneys, and front-line community members have pushed hard to get an unreasonable, unreliable, and dangerous mine plan rejected by the courts and the state. Under Stauber’s plan, PolyMet would already be here destroying our wetlands.

As Bloomberg reported in May, Glencore has the worst human rights record among miners of metals used in renewable energy. When Stauber claims he wants to end child forced labor in Congo, he fails to mention Glencore was implicated in this scandal.

Glencore also pleaded guilty and agreed to pay more than $1.1 billion to resolve the U.S. government’s investigations into bribery of officials across seven countries, as well as commodity price fixing, according to the U.S. Justice Department . The settlement was a drop in the bucket compared to the $4 billion Glencore announced, on the same day, would be returned to shareholders after record profits, as the Guardian reported .


Yet Glencore is trying to mine in Minnesota, and Stauber champions its efforts.

Let’s look at another Stauber darling, Rio Tinto, or Talon Metals, which owns the Bingham Canyon Mine near the Great Salt Lake in Utah. There’s already a Superfund site there, though mining operations continue. The Bingham mine is the second-most-polluting mine in the U.S. by toxic releases, as Earthworks and others have determined. State and federal agencies have repeatedly had to rely on legal or administrative action to compel the company to respond to impacts.

In February 2008, the U.S. Department of Interior Fish and Wildlife Service took legal action against Kennecott (Rio Tinto) for the release of hazardous substances from the mine’s facilities, including selenium, copper, arsenic, lead, zinc, and cadmium. According to federal biologists , the release of these hazardous pollutants harmed wetlands, marshes, freshwater wildlife habitats, playas and riparian areas, and freshwater ponds.

It is predicted, including by Brigham Young University , that in five years, the Great Salt Lake will be gone and the toxic mix on the lake bed will blow far and wide, impacting the health of Salt Lake City residents.

The Flambeau Mine in Ladysmith, Wisconsin, was another Rio Tinto debacle, despite being touted for years as an example of a model mine. In 2007, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources approved Rio Tinto’s reclamation efforts stating the Flambeau Mine “is the only example of a metallic mine that was permitted, constructed, operated and reclaimed under the state's existing regulatory framework.”

Two years later, though, the Menominee Nation reported surface water and groundwater that did not meet Wisconsin’s standards. Dangerously elevated copper and zinc concentrations were noted.

Hydrogeologist Robert E. Moran issued a report in April 2017 regarding water contamination at the Flambeau Mine. He noted , “Since 1998, (the Flambeau Mining Company) has instituted six different work plans to address this soil and water contamination issue. As of fall 2016, copper levels in the Flambeau River tributary still exceed the acute toxicity criterion."

Rio Tinto’s supposed model mine poisoned the Flambeau River. It could become a Superfund site.


The editorial claimed a “reasonable timeframe” for a decision on a mining proposal is simply “respectful and responsible.” I agree. We should pass “bad actor” legislation to keep criminal entities from our shores. This would preserve our water, our land, and sites sacred to the Anishinabek peoples of the Great Lakes region. (Rio Tinto desecrates holy sites as well. In 2020, according to the Guardian , the company blew up a 46,000-year-old sacred site in Australia to expand an iron ore mine.)

Though Congressman Stauber may disagree, my way of life depends on clean water and healthy soil and thriving forests — not destroying what we love.

Johnny Barber of Palisade, Minnesota, is a photographer and videographer who closely follows mining proposals and the actions of mining companies. He can be reached at .

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Johnny Barber

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