Protect Northern Minnesota by not allowing copper nickel sulfide mining

by Glen Wallace

We don't know the extent of the risk of a copper nickel sulfide mine in pristine northern Minnesota wilderness -- we just know, based on similar mines in other states that the risks are considerable.  Despite some dubious claims by the mining companies that they have ways to limit the risks, we should not use our precious natural northwoods wonders as some lab experiment where mistakes cannot be reversed.  Therefore, I strongly support the withdrawal of land from availability for copper nickel sulfide mining in Northern Minnesota.      

The underground, despite all the advances in the geological sciences, continues to be largely a mystery or a 'black box', subject largely to speculation by even the best and brightest scientists.  We only need to look at the old Twin Cities Army Ammunition Plant or TCAAP as proof that the best and brightest minds do not have a remotely clear understanding of dynamics of water flow beneath the grounds surface.  Repeatedly over the years, the experts failed in their predictions as to the size of the plume of contamination underground the TCAAP site.  Those scientific experts calculated how much volatile organic compounds they thought would be needed to be removed from the ground to fully remediate the groundwater contamination from the munitions plant.  But even after what they thought was the necessary amount of voc's were extracted, the groundwater was tested and still found to be full of the voc's tied to the original munitions plant.  Now, the scientific experts just claim that the TCAAP groundwater will have to be treated until approximately 2040, but it sounds like they are just throwing out their best guess when giving that year as the completion date.  Those experts just didn't know and still don't know what was or is going on with regard to the groundwater and how the pollution acts and circulates in the groundwater down there.   

Experience with the munitions plant shows we cannot predict with any accuracy how long or how well groundwater pollution can be controlled, removed or mitigated once it already has occurred.  Therefore, there is no way to accurately predict, anticipate or prevent groundwater contamination by a copper nickel sulfide mine.  As a result, no one will be able to honestly provide any assurance that mining pollution wont find its way underground to the lakes and streams of the BWCA.   The environmental assessments and reports for the proposed copper nickel mine could be a million pages long, and the environmental scientific experts would still have to admit they really don't know what will happen to the groundwater once the mine is operational.  

Additionally, the jobs created by the mine sound like the sorts of jobs that will soon be replaced by the automation of robots and intelligent machines.  However, many of the tourism jobs up north are not as amenable to automation.  For instance, I don't foresee in the future anyone going on a canoe trip in the boundary waters requesting a robot as a guide for their rustic canoe trip.  And we can only count on people wanting to come and visit the Boundary Waters if they can count on being able to visit a pristine environment.  But no amount of money or automation will ever be able to undo the damage a copper nickel mine has made once it is done.  But once we realize we cannot go back and undo the pollution, most of the jobs at the mine will be automated and few jobs will be needed to guide visitors to the Boundary Waters because the lakes and streams have been transformed into a frightening toxic soup.  People want an authentic pioneer experience  in the boundary waters like the Native American's and Voyageurs experienced.  They don't want to share their canoe with a robotic guide and they don't want to be paddling through a toxic wasteland contaminated by the product of modern greed and technology.  

Additionally, being satisfied with any mining company posting a bond as insurance against future groundwater contamination doesn't make sense either.  An analogy could be made between the sulfide mine bond and a scenario where a manufacture of a dangerously defective product would be allowed to continue to sell that product without a recall simply because they posted a bond that would pay for the medical costs of anyone injured by their product.  To continue with that analogy, the bond would have to be enough to pay for a lifetime of medical care and costs of anyone permanently disabled by the flawed product.  No one in government would find such a scenario to be acceptable, then why do some find it acceptable to risk our priceless northern waters just because a corporation can post a bond that will be spent towards nursing a damaged earth, permanently crippled by copper nickel sulfide mine poisoning?