With steel prices down and hundreds of miners being laid off across Minnesota’s Iron Range, it is only natural that open pit copper mining currently being promoted by the PolyMet Mining Company appears to be just what is needed to restore the economy in this beleaguered region of our state. But is it worth the risk?
“What risk?” you ask. “Hasn’t our Department of Natural Resources already approved PolyMet’s Environmental Protection Plan? Hasn’t PolyMet (a company that has never mined copper before) assured us environmental catastrophies characteristic of all other copper mines throughout the U.S. and Canada cannot happen here — a short distance west of our Boundary Waters Canoe Area and Ontario’s adjoining Quetico Provincial Park?”
The trouble is, when it comes to copper mining, we Minnesotans are babes in the woods. We know nothing about it. It is no coincidence PolyMet began promoting copper mining here while laid-off iron miners were begging for jobs and an extension of unemployment compensation. At other times, copper mining might have been a tough sell here.
For eighteen years, my wife Jene and I spent three months each winter in southern New Mexico and Arizona where open pit copper mining is huge in comparison to open pit iron mining in Minnesota. Everywhere we went, Silver City and Tuscon, for example, scores of people were angry and attempting to bring a halt to something copper mines were doing, planning to do or not doing. In these two cities hardly a day went by without being asked to sign a petition by persons seeking to prevent an entire scenic mountain from being reduced to poisonous rubble or trying to bring a halt to what waterborne or airborne chemicals from a nearby copper mine were doing to children and others. What copper mining is likely to do in Minnesota where fishing, hunting, camping and canoeing have long been cherished by millions of Americans for more than a century is trifling compared to what many humans now face near copper mines in other U.S, states and Canada today. Did you know that? Doesn’t that seem strange?
How about this question: with so many U.S. and Canadian copper mines now in operation, does the world really need Minnesota’s copper? Or does todays price of copper have something to do with it?
You don’t have to be a miner or earn a PhD in Hard Rock Mining to understand why copper mining is apt to be dangerous to humans, game, fish and forests or why such mines are likely to continue to be dangerous hundreds if not thousands of years after they are closed. Watch for my next copper mining blog post to learn why.