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In March 2016, DFL Precinct Caucuses were held throughout Minnesota. At many of these caucuses citizens passed resolutions opposed to sulfide mining. At the Senate District and Operating Unit conventions that followed, where representatives of precincts (ranging from around 22 to 90 precincts per unit) gathered to elect officers and vote on resolutions, nearly 50 units passed resolutions opposed to sulfide mining. All resolutions were then sent to the DFL Platform Committee where similar resolutions were grouped together, consolidated and shortened into as brief a format as possible for voting by delegates at the June 4, 2016, DFL State Convention. At the State Convention the sulfide mining resolution was circulated with all other resolutions and voted upon by the body on a written ballot; however, the sulfide mining resolution (Resolution 54) was tabled for discussion until the next Minnesota DFL State Central Committee meeting, held on August 6.
Resolution 54 reads as follows: “Oppose sulfide ore mining, which is significantly different from taconite mining, poses unacceptable environmental risks, threatens multiple watersheds (Lake Superior, BWCA/VNP, Mississippi) and should not be allowed in the sulfur-bearing rock of Minnesota.”
Who is more nescient?
Those who bought the hype that a DFL resolution opposed to sulfide mining in water-rich Minnesota includes taconite mining, or the Range delegation for selling the deceit?
Mining proponents, who for years vociferously objected to the term “sulfide mining,” now apparently embrace it.
St. Louis County Commissioner Tom Rukavina postured at the U.S. Forest Service’s listening session in Duluth (concerning Twin Metals leases), “For 135 years we’ve been mining sulfide [near the BWCA] and we’ve done such a good job, everybody thinks it’s wilderness.” (Star Tribune) Another version of Rukavina’s remark appeared in the Mesabi Daily News: “We’ve been mining iron ore with sulfide in it for 135 years, while being good stewards of the region’s environment.”
That must be why the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is investigating whether to yank Minnesota’s right to permit mining – because Rukavina, the Mesabi Daily News, legislative cohorts, and agencies have all been such “good stewards of the region’s environment,” so good that “everybody thinks it’s wilderness.”
Sulfide mining terminology
Over the years I have sent certain fuming Iron Range politicians the following information:
“Sulfide mining” is just as accurate and accepted as nonferrous, copper-nickel sulfide, polymetallic, or metallic sulfide mining (used by the mining industry to encompass varied combinations of metals). Each sulfide deposit is mined for its sulfide minerals, named for the predominant metal(s) the sulfide ore contains (i.e. copper-nickel sulfide mining), and is broadly referred to as sulfide mining.
The mining industry, particularly in Australia and Chile, uses the term sulfide mining.
Until 2016 (when sulfide mine became sulfide deposit), Antofagasta’s homepage unapologetically stated, “About Us/Antofagasta Minerals”… “Los Pelambres: A sulfide mine located in the Region of Coquimbo, ... It produces copper and molybdenum concentrates through milling and flotation processes. … Esperanza: A sulfide mine located in the Region of Antofagasta, … It produces copper concentrate and gold through a milling and flotation process.”
Brian Gavin, CEO of Franconia Minerals before it was bought out by Duluth Metals, said, “Technically this is sulfide mining and naturally that’s going to raise environmental concerns.”
Host rock makes the difference
As readers can plainly see, sulfide mining does not refer to iron or taconite mining. The simple reason: “In contrast to iron ores, which are mostly oxides, most copper minerals are sulfides.” (Chemistry & Chemical Reactivity)
“Earth’s most important iron ore deposits are found in sedimentary rocks. They formed from chemical reactions that combined iron and oxygen in marine and fresh waters. The two most important minerals in these deposits are iron oxides: hematite (Fe2O3) and magnetite (Fe3O4).” (Mines N Minerals.com)
Hematite and magnetite are the iron oxides of Minnesota’s iron and taconite industry. Oxides. Not sulfides.
Why then is sulfate contamination a serious issue in taconite mining, with sulfate levels usually high above the regulatory standard of 10 mg/L for wild rice waters; elevated levels that also add to specific conductance toxicity? Some sulfur exists in the form of iron pyrite (FeS2); it is considered waste rock because the iron cannot be extracted economically, and when combined with oxygen the sulfur ion turns to sulfate.
“Pyrite is composed of iron and sulfur; however, the mineral does not serve as an important source of either of these elements. Iron is typically obtained from oxide ores such as hematite and magnetite. These ores occur in much larger accumulations, the iron is easier to extract and the metal is not contaminated with sulfur, which reduces its strength.” (Geology.com/Italic added.)
The levels of sulfur mentioned above do not even come close to the concentrations of sulfur in the major copper-nickel sulfide minerals that are found in the Duluth Complex formation, such as in chalcopyrite (CuFeS2) and cubanite (CuFe2S3), two of the major minerals proposed to be mined. Unlike Iron Range formations, the copper-nickel formation and host rock – and the adjacent Virginia formation – all contain environmentally proven high levels of pyrite. These copper-nickel sulfur wastes will end up as sulfates in both the waste rock and tailings in vastly higher concentrations than in taconite waste or in waste from old iron mines.
Neither iron ore, nor taconite mining, would ever be considered to be sulfide mining.
The Range delegation insisted that the DFL State Central Committee remove “sulfide mining” from its caucus resolution, claiming sulfide mining includes taconite mining.
Changing “sulfide” to “nonferrous” is nothing more than subterfuge. The taconite industry and the Range delegation are looking for a continuation of agency and legislative ‘protection’ from Minnesota’s statutes and rules, and from Federal laws and regulations, a policy that has allowed the industry to avoid adherence and pollute for decades.
On August 6, the DFL State Central Committee, eyeing Minnesota’s upcoming election, tabled the sulfide mining resolution once again.
I remind the DFL State Central Committee that participants in respective DFL caucuses knew exactly what they meant when they wrote and passed resolutions opposed to sulfide mining.
Resolutions opposed to sulfide mining were passed in Lake, Cook and St. Louis County within the 3rd Senate District (representing three quarters of the operating units in the District), as well as by more than 45 units throughout the state. At the State DFL Convention the resolution was voted upon, despite being pulled for discussion, and passed with more than 60% support.
What Minnesota needs is political courage, not game playing.
And the games begin
DFL State Central Committee chairman Ken Martin subtly phrased ‘compromise.’ “Thanks to the behind the scenes work of many individuals…. at the DFL State Central Committee meeting an agreement was reached to create an Ad Hoc Task Force to address the issue of nonferrous mining in Minnesota.” (Italic added)
What “issue” would that be? Dozens of DFL caucuses in northeastern Minnesota and statewide were clear they wanted to oppose sulfide mining; they passed resolutions and expected the DFL to honor them.
Martin went on to say that the Ad Hoc Task Force “will develop a revised platform resolution … to develop solutions that are acceptable to the four groups involved.” The four groups: DFL Environmental Caucus, organized labor, the Iron Range legislative delegation, and Minnesota tribal communities. What about it being acceptable to all those involved – those who wrote and passed sulfide mining resolutions statewide?
What about “a revised” resolution? How do you revise saying “no” to sulfide mining? No means no.
Environmental rights are civil rights
Sulfates also contribute to methyl mercury.
Who cares about Minnesota’s children, about babies being born with toxic levels of mercury in their blood? About children drinking water from wells contaminated by poisonous levels of manganese? About nickel being a suspected mutagen? About children losing IQ points – about limiting our children’s intellectual future?
Evidently not the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA), who backed down from upholding a 10 mg/L sulfate standard for wild rice, surrendering to Range delegation and legislative pressure. Instead the MPCA has released a revised, fundamentally worthless, “Protecting Wild Rice from Excess Sulfate: Draft Technical Support Document,” impossible to implement, easily skewed, and exactly what the mining industry was after – for taconite mining, and for proposed sulfide mining.
Would it make a difference if we asked our agencies and legislators to uphold the 10 mg/L wild rice standard to protect our children? During the wild rice study Minnesota Chamber of Commerce attorneys unequivocally stated methyl mercury, i.e. children, could not be considered – the legislature had only authorized a study for sulfates related to wild rice. Forget your children.
In 2013, a Mesabi Daily News headline suggested that “Civil War” was declared in Ely over sulfide mining. Since the paper chose to use the Civil War analogy, it raises an interesting point. There are certain issues where there is no place for compromise. During the Civil War era, many stated that slavery should be continued so the economy of the South would not suffer.
“Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery – the greatest material interest of the world. Its labor supplies the product which constitutes by far the largest and most important portions of commerce of the earth. … These products have become necessities of the world, and a blow at slavery is a blow at commerce and civilization.” (Mississippi Secession)
Protecting Minnesota’s waters in this era of global warming, protecting the legacy of generations of children, thus protecting their health and intellect – literally their lives – does not allow for compromise