At Friday afternoon’s legislative hearing held to address the possibility of future sulfide mining in Minnesota, there was standing room only. Concerned citizens from all over the state attended to hear testimony about this method to extract ores such as copper and nickel. Sulfide mining differs from taconite mining in that it has the potential for acid mine drainage: pollution caused by the exposure of sulfide minerals in the ground to air and water. Not only do sulfide mines pollute heavily while operational, they will continue to pollute for hundreds of years afterwards.
Those who would like to see the mining project go forward argue that a new mining site would give much needed employment to thousands of workers in the Iron Range, serving as an important aspect of the local economy. However, there are many who feel that the risks of sulfide mining should be addressed before putting the plans into practice. While Wisconsin has a moratorium in place stating that to achieve a permit for a sulfide mine the applicant must first prove they can operate a sulfide mine for ten years without acid mine drainage and close a mine without producing pollution for ten years afterwards, Minnesota has no such law.
“We want to see mining without harm and we want the companies to prove that it’s possible,” says Clyde Hanson, co-chair of the Sierra Club North Star Chapter’s Mining Without Harm campaign. “Proof, not promises” is what he would prefer from corporations such as PolyMet who have yet to show that their proposed mine near Babbitt successfully solves these environmental issues.