In the year 2012 our government agencies will face decisions about a new open pit mine and its remodeled taconite plant on a brown field in Northeastern Minnesota. The public discussion surrounding this project has been heating up because the mining location is literally "on the edge of the wilderness."
When a political friend sent out a blanket email with a rallying cry of opposition I recognized that the time had come to invite a thinking response to rhetoric about a threatened disaster.
Here follows the gist of my reply which I sent to the entire distribution list:
Fellow Minnesotans, before you join any "movement," please inform yourselves about the issues of protecting the environment while extracting essential metals from new ore deposits in Northern Minnesota. The environmental impact statement (EIS) to be issued in the next few months will be for the Polymet Mine near Hoyt Lakes. Permit applications to the U.S. EPA and MN DNR are for mining copper, nickel, and platinum group metals (PGM) in an open pit next to the former LTV taconite mine and mill (originally Erie Taconite).
Natural iron ore and taconite are made up of iron oxides and silicates. In close proximity on the east range are ore-grade deposits of copper and nickel sulphide minerals. It is important that sulphide-containing waste rock and tailings from these non-ferrous mines be covered and contained, away from exposure to the atmosphere. If not, sulphuric acid forms in the surface runoff. Acid mine drainage can and must be prevented by mining operators. Government inspectors and regulators must insure that waste water is contained and treated on site. This is a major issue in the permitting process now underway.
Let's avoid slogans and sound bites when we consider policies for Minnesotans that concern environmental safety, jobs, and economic security.
- Gordon O. Prickett, P.E.