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In Response: Science says we can't have both tourism, copper mining

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Gary Meader / Duluth News Tribune

The May 14 commentary in the News Tribune from Ely Mayor Chuck Novak and Babbitt Mayor Andrea Zupancich showed their genuine concern and fear that the future of Iron Range towns will be lost without copper-sulfide mining projects like Twin Metals and PolyMet (Iron Range Mayors’ View: “Mining can exist with tourism -- and always has”).

While we with the Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness appreciate their concern, the argument they made showed exactly why Minnesota is not prepared for this new type of mining.

The mayors made an argument we have heard many times, that mining is a way of life in Minnesota and we know how to do it and we can do it safely and still have tourism because that’s how we’ve always done it. The problem with this line of thinking is that it leaves out a crucial point: Minnesota has never had copper-sulfide mining like the proposed Twin Metals and PolyMet projects.

Yes, we have built a strong state with the help of taconite mining; but copper-sulfide mining is a completely different type of mining, requiring a completely different extraction process that has never been done anywhere without polluting. Saying Minnesota can safely do copper-sulfide mining without polluting, even though no one else in the world has figured out a way, is like saying that just because I know how to drive a car I know how to fly a fighter jet in combat. Yes, in both cases, you are operating a vehicle, but that is where similarities end.

The mayors also claimed that the process is grounded in science, showing that these mines will not pollute. If that is the case, where is this science? Can they point to a single unbiased study (not paid for by Twin Metals or PolyMet) that shows copper-sulfide mining will not pollute in a water-rich environment like Northeastern Minnesota? If they have science and facts on their side, why don’t they ever show us these resources?

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Because they don’t exist.

The mayors and Twin Metals may tell us that we can have tourism and copper mines, but science tells us that we cannot. Instead of continuing a fight that divides Minnesotans and puts our clean water at risk, our state leaders should be looking at ways to boost the economies of nonmetro Minnesota in a sustainable manner.

It is time to accept science, reject the false promise of a dangerous industry, and work together to find creative and safe ways to take care of our own. After all, copper-sulfide mining might not be a way of life in Minnesota, but ingenuity and kindness always will be.

Scott Beauchamp of St. Paul is policy director for Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness (friends-bwca.org).

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Scott Beauchamp

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