Sportsmen’s coalition supports holding PolyMet fully accountable

Sportsmen’s coalition supports holding PolyMet fully accountable for watershed and waterways pollution
2,000 years of contamination for 20 years of copper mining

Published Sept. 22, 2009

DULUTH—An ad hoc coalition of hunting and angling groups formally requests that legislation be passed by state lawmakers holding Canadian mining company PolyMet fully accountable for any and all costs associated with remediation and cleanup of its proposed copper-nickel mining operations near Hoyt Lakes, Minn. If this can’t be accomplished—thereby protecting taxpayers from a cleanup tab that could amount to hundreds of millions of dollars—no copper-nickel mining should be allowed.

The coalition of groups, which includes the Minnesota Division of the Izaak Walton League of America and the Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, consists of sportsmen and women and others who understand the priceless value of clean watersheds and crystal clear lakes, streams, and rivers that supply Minnesotans with clean drinking water and unparalleled outdoor recreation opportunities.

And we have serious concerns about the seemingly reckless rush of some northern Minnesota legislators and others to approve PolyMet’s proposed mining operation on the former LTV Steel Mining Co.’s taconite plant near Hoyt Lakes. Especially considering that these same lawmakers stymied attempts to pass common sense legislation ensuring that taxpayers won’t be saddled with decades of remediation and toxic waste cleanup costs after PolyMet officials pack their bags and head back to Canada.

Today, the Environmental Protection Agency estimates that 40 percent of western headwater streams are polluted by abandoned mines, which poison rivers, creeks, and watersheds with sulfuric acid and heavy metals such as lead, cadmium and arsenic. High-end estimates of the number of abandoned mines range up to half-a-million. The projected cost to clean them up could be as high as $70 billion.

Hardrock mining imperils watersheds and fish habitat because mineral ores are infused with sulfides. When mining puts the ore into contact with water, the result is acid runoff that pollutes lakes, rivers and streams, oftentimes killing all aquatic life. For example, in South Dakota the Dakota Mining Corp. extracted nearly $70 million worth of precious metals from public lands, then went broke in 1998, abandoned the mine, and left behind a 100 million gallon pond of acid and toxic heavy metals. The cleanup cost is estimated at $40 million—more than seven times higher than the cleanup bond the company posted, shifting the costs onto taxpayers.

At Summitville, a mine in Colorado, a bankrupt Canadian company has left the nation’s most costly mine cleanup. It will take 100 years and cost $235 million to clean up the release of cyanide and acid mine drainage that has left 17 miles of the Alamosa River devoid of fish and other aquatic life. The mine was permitted as a ‘zero discharge’ mine. Montana and Wisconsin have since banned similar mines as a result of these and other disasters.

It’s clear to us that PolyMet’s Canadian officials don’t want to be held financially responsible for their mine’s cleanup and reclamation costs because they know that the long-term environmental damage to our watersheds, waterways and other natural resources will likely exceed the value (many times over) of the copper and other minerals they manage to extract from the ground. PolyMet’s draft environmental impact statement (DEIS) says as much, stating that:

  • “Water leaching from the waste rock piles is expected to be contaminated for up to 2,000 years.”
  • “The West Mine Pit will overflow at Mine Year 65 (45 years after expected mine closure), contaminating the adjacent Partridge River with sulfates and heavy metals.”
  • “Groundwater at the mine site is expected to exceed water quality standards.”
  • “Due to structural instability, the tailings basin has a “low margin of safety.””

It’s also clear that PolyMet’s proposed mining operation will most likely contaminate waters that flow into the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and tributaries of Lake Superior. The very lifeblood of northern Minnesota’s economy is its healthy watersheds and waterways, but PolyMet’s proposed mine waste will be leaching sulfuric acid into those same northern Minnesota waterways “for up to 2,000 years.”

In essence, what this amounts to (i.e., not holding PolyMet accountable for remediation and cleanup costs) is a corporate bailout for a Canadian company. American’s hard-earned tax dollars shouldn’t be used to subsidize foreign companies who are going to leave us with a legacy of 2,000 years of poisoned lakes, streams, and rivers. Adding insult to injury, the raw materials dug up from Minnesota’s public lands are going to be sold on the world market, very likely to countries with emerging economies, like China.

We end by asking a simple question: is 20 years worth of copper mining jobs worth 2,000 years of poisoned waterways and watersheds that will cost the rest of us millions, and possibly billions, to clean up? The risks to taxpayers and northern Minnesota’s waterways cannot be overstated and should not be brushed under the rug by short-sighted legislators. If PolyMet officials won’t agree to abide by tough, common sense legislation that requires them to be held fully accountable for all future remediation and cleanup costs, thereby protecting taxpayers from having to pay to clean up their toxic mess, it’s time to send them back to Canada.

Coalition Spokesmen:

Len Anderson
Izaak Walton League

David Lien
Backcountry Hunters and Anglers

Darrell Spencer
Izaak Walton League

About Caitlin Thompson