Can Copper Mining Be Done Without Violating Pollution Laws? Facts Vs Fiction.

John LaForge

A group of area small businesses has come together to urge opposition to the dangerously toxic form of mining being proposed by PolyMet. With a growing roster of 58 members, the Downstream Business Coalition warns that the proposed copper-nickel mine, and others like it, “are vastly different from ferrous mining, and have the potential to spread toxic metals throughout our watershed.”

All copper-nickel sulfide mining is particularly pollution-intensive and always causes acid mine drainage and extremely long-term contamination of downstream water bodies. As the Business Coalition says, “[O]ur concerns are based on the track record of similar projects. We welcome [PolyMet] to show us one metallic sulfide mine of this type that has operated for 10 years and been closed for 10 years without exceeding government pollution standards. Indeed, under Wisconsin’s ‘Prove It First’ law, no such example has yet been identified.” According to the Environmental Impact Statement, PolyMet’s mining pollution will continue for “a minimum of 500 years at the Plant Site,” requiring treatment “indefinitely.”

Mine advocates have pointed to the operation of one mine in the entire world -- Wisconsin’s Flambeau Mine near Ladysmith -- to convince the public, lawmakers and regulators that copper-nickel mining could be done “without polluting local waters.” In a Sept. 25, 2013 letter to Governor Dayton, and Minnesota’s legislators and Congressional delegation, Frank Ongaro, Executive Director of MiningMinnesota, wrote, “Copper, nickel and other much-needed metal production can and has been done safely and successfully, without polluting local waters.” Ongaro also claimed that the operation and closure of the Flambeau mine “has not impaired local waters.”

Ongaro’s statements are false (“Tests find toxins at model mine,” Mlwk. Journal Sentinel, Nov. 2, 2011). Detailed evidence that MiningMinnesota’s claims are untrue has been well-documented in the November 2015 report “PolyMet Decision: The Flambeau Factor,” by Laura Gauger.

Using public Wisconsin Dept. of Natural Resources (WDNR) data and US EPA documents, Gauger’s report reminds us that toxic levels of copper and zinc contamination are poisoning Scream C, which is both a tributary of the Flambeau River, and a drainageway for stormwater runoff from the Flambeau mine site. WDNR data from 2010 and 2011, and front page news reports, were available to MiningMinnesota when its 9/25/13 whitewash was posted. Stream C’s copper and zinc concentrations exceeded acute toxicity criteria so regularly, that in 2011 WDNR recommended to the EPA that Stream C be added to its official list of “impaired waters.” The EPA added Stream C to the list in June 2014. Furthermore, EPA made its “impaired waters” designation retroactive to April 2012.

MiningMinnesota should apologize to the governor and our lawmakers, and should publicly retract its 2013 disinformation.

Meanwhile, members of the Downstream Business Coalition, representing 1000 employees in technology, manufacturing, service, entertainment, education and the trades, warn that PolyMet’s mine drainage projections show that its plume of contamination would reach the Partridge and Embarrass Rivers, which flow to the St. Louis River and ultimately Lake Superior. And, although PolyMet claims otherwise, experts have shown mining waste water would also move north across the Laurentian Divide endangering the pristine Boundary Waters.

For boldly standing up against the and well-funded but fraudulent corporate public relations propaganda, the small business coalition faces a backlash from pro-mine activists who demand we avoid the its offices, markets, cafes,  pubs, shops, resorts, schools, clinics and restaurants. Instead, the coalition deserves the support of everyone who wants to protect the water and the wilderness.

As of Dec. 20 the coalition includes: *Amity Coffee*Anahata Herbals*Andi’s*At Sara’s Table/Chester Creek Café*Beaners*Bella Terra Landscaping*Bent Paddle Brewing Co.*Brewfully Inspired*Carmody’s*Chaperone Records & Red Herring Lounge*Day Tripper of Duluth*Deer Tail Press*Duluth Coffee Company*Duluth Grill*Duluth Running Co.*Duluth Technology Co.*Ely Outfitting Co.*Epicurean*Evolve*Food Farm*Galerie Sochi*Gilbert Law Office*Great Lakes School of Log Building*Heck of the North Productions*Intectural*John Doberstein, LLC*John S. Lind Attorney at Law*Just Take Action—Fitger’s Brewhouse Restaurant Group*Kristin Larsen & Associates, LLC*Lake Avenue Café*Lake Superior Art Glass*LBS Media*Leaning Barn Farm*Loll Designs*Luke Chiropractic and Wellness*Med Search Network*Nordic Firewood*Northern Water Smokehaus*Northland Films*Nukewatch*Old Saw Media*Pure Clean*River Point Resort & Outfitting Co.*Roadless Yoga*Sawbill Canoe Outfitters*Sawtooth Outfitters*Scalzo Architects*Silent Sports LLC*Sled Dogs to St. Paul*Snowshoe Country Lodge*Superior Paddle*Taiga Design Build, LLC*There and Back Books*Thirsty Pagan*Up North Fungi*Vikre Distillery*Wintergreen Dogsled Lodge*Wintergreen Northern Wear*Yker Acres*

The Coalition is growing fast, just like the public’s understanding of the heavy metal pollution that results from copper mining. As its mission statement says (www.downstreambusinesscoalition.org), its members are not opposed to all mining, just the proposed copper sulfide mining that permanently poisons groundwater, rivers, streams, wetlands, and lakes -- Great and otherwise. As the Coalition says, “Our businesses depend on the health of the Lake Superior watershed.”

“[U]ntil the technology is proven, we simply don’t believe the Land of 10,000 Lakes is the place for a test case.”

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