Sulfide mining controversy makes Star Tribune op-ed pages

Duluth Metals and Antofagasta recently organized a visit to the state by the Chilean head of Antofagasta, the Chilean ambassador, and other officials to promote the Twin Metals mining venture three miles from the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. The group met with Governor Tim Pawlenty, Ely mayor Roger Skraba, and the media.

The visit took them to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, where they met with the paper’s editorial board. The paper subsequently published an editorial calling for the issue to be of greater prominence in public discussions, and in the governor’s race. The editorial’s overall tone was skeptical:

The state desperately needs these jobs, but this issue is far more complex than that. Politicians and firms like Antofagasta need to understand that Minnesotans will not trade the state’s soul — the BWCA, Lake Superior, the North Shore forest — for economic gain. The Antofagasta/Duluth Metals project’s eastern edge is just a few miles from the BWCA. Older nonferrous mines have an abysmal environmental track record. While technological strides certainly have been made, assurances that things are better now aren’t going to cut it.

Nonferrous mining companies don’t just need to win over the regulators. They need to win over the public. Facts, openness and a willingness to work with their critics will serve them well, but the task ahead of them is formidable.

Read the whole editorial »

As a response to the editorial, Scott Strand, the executive director of the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, wrote a commentary calling for even more skepticism of the mining proposals. Strand rightly points out that mining companies always overstate the job potential, and downplay the environmental risks.

Modern mineral extraction is very machinery-intensive and generally creates far fewer jobs than promised. The foreign mining interests who control these operations typically do relatively little local hiring, and they make only limited use of local suppliers. The oft-promised downstream processing and manufacturing jobs rarely materialize, because the business plan is to export the raw minerals, today mostly to China. Very little of the companies’ profits stay in the communities where the mining takes place. And, particularly with today’s extremely volatile commodities markets, mining jobs can’t be expected to last. Mining is a boom-and-bust industry, and Minnesota and the nation have seen time and again what happens to schools and communities when mines shut down abruptly because the profits suddenly aren’t high enough.

Read Scott Strand’s commentary »