Posted on Mar 15, 2022

EcoEducation: Boundary Waters protection, preservation, and restoration

We heard previously from Save the Boundary Waters about the reasons to keep mining out of the Boundary Waters watershed and now it was time for an update after the recent Biden administration cancellation of leases for the Twin Metal Mine and Polymet Mine.  We got that update from Friends of the Boundary Waters.  
The Boundary Waters differs from other land plots because it is a wilderness.  It is also called the most controversial piece of public land because it has been named in the most court cases.  From timber sales to acid rain regulations to mining, protection of the Boundary Waters is often a matter that is litigated. 
The Friends of the Boundary Waters has a mission to protect, preserve and restore the Boundary Waters.  Protection is the advocacy work and the work done through the court system.  Preservation is an effort to have people visit and enjoy the area.  People who are invested want to protect this land.  Restoration is often things like trail maintenance which takes on unique challenges in a designated wilderness since no chainsaws are allowed. 
The copper sulfide mines that were proposed for northern Minnesota were fundamentally different than the previous taconite mining.  The copper found in Minnesota is relatively low grade.  A chemical bath is needed to extract the metal from rock.  There is 99% waste.  The waste combines with oxygen and makes sulfuric acid.  The management plan for the enormous amount of waste is one of the key elements that is concerning for the environment, the watershed and even down stream communities like Duluth.  
Some things Friends of the Boundary Waters wants us to consider: 
  • Copper is the most recyclable metal.  We recycle around 33%.  If we moved this up to 50% it would produce more copper than three mines. 
  • The DNR has a conflict of interest because they are there to promote mining and ALSO to protect natural resources.  Perhaps the responsibility to promote mining should shift to the Department of Economic Development.
  • We need financial assurance from any mining companies in the form of a tax payer protection act.  Mining companies need to fund insurance up front and in cash for any potential catastrophic event such as a tailings dam burst
  • Should we require mining companies to Prove their operations are safe by showing us a mine that is constructed in the way they are proposing that has been safely operating for ten years?  They can't do that now.