MAC/20: Mines and Communities

Minnesota bills seek ban on copper-nickel mining

Published by MAC on 2021-01-16
Source: Associated Press, Star Tribune, WDIO

Backers say the Statew shouldn't be a guinea pig for risky copper mines.

Companion bills set to be proposed by state lawmakers seek to block copper mining on federal lands in the Rainy River watershed, most of which is contained within the pristine Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. The lawmakers joined environmental group Save the Boundary Waters at a news conference to outline the permanent plan to protect the wilderness area. Another state bill, which lawmakers dubbed “Prove it First,” wouldn’t ban mining but it would force companies to prove that they had safely operated a similar non-iron mine elsewhere for at least 10 years without resulting in pollution or contamination. The effort directly opposes a proposed Twin Metals underground copper-nickel mine near Ely and the proposed PolyMet mine near Babbitt and Hoyt Lakes.

See also:

2013-01-28 In Wisconsin Mining Industry Targets "Prove It First" Law
2008-10-21 Doing it right - or wrong - in Minnesota?
2006-12-13 Copperheads vs. Greens
 

Anti-Copper Mining Legislation Proposed by State, Federal Lawmakers

Associated Press

Jan 14, 2021

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Minnesota lawmakers are ramping up efforts to prevent mining companies from gaining a foothold in Minnesota with legislation that aims to slow or ban copper-nickel mining on the Iron Range.

Companion bills set to be proposed by state lawmakers and U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum seek to block copper mining on federal lands in the Rainy River watershed, most of which is contained within the pristine Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. The lawmakers joined anti-mining group Save the Boundary Waters at a news conference Thursday to outline the permanent plan to protect the wilderness area.

“A pollution-free, safe copper mine simply does not exist,” McCollum said. “The water quality remains clean only because the lakes and rivers and groundwater in the Rainy River watershed upstream from the wilderness are not polluted by toxic mining.”

Another state bill, which lawmakers dubbed “Prove it First,” proposed Wednesday wouldn’t ban mining. But it would force companies to prove that they had safely operated a similar non-iron mine elsewhere for at least 10 years without resulting in pollution or contamination.

The effort directly opposes a proposed Twin Metals underground copper-nickel mine near Ely that opponents say could contaminate the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. The Twin Metals mine and the proposed PolyMet mine near Babbitt and Hoyt Lakes would be the first copper-nickel mines in the state.

The Trump administration has taken several actions in an attempt to fast-track mining projects across the country, including an order signed by the president a month before the November election declaring a national emergency in the industry in an effort to boost domestic mineral production.

The incoming Biden administration and Democratic control of the U.S. Senate is likely to be more sympathetic to the environmental groups. The Minnesota Legislature remains divided.

A bipartisan group of seven state lawmakers representing communities in northeastern Minnesota’s Iron Range came out against the “Prove it First” bill, with a statement Wednesday calling it a “thinly veiled effort to thwart the startup of new mining operations in Minnesota’s mineral rich mining region.”

“Minnesota’s lengthy, painstakingly thorough environmental review and permitting process imposes the latest safety and environmental protection standards in existence on any proposed mining that comes forward,” the statement said. “Nothing is broken here, special legislation is neither needed nor warranted in this area.”



Minnesota lawmakers propose ban and moratorium on copper mining

Backers say Minnesota shouldn't be a guinea pig for risky copper mines.

Jennifer Bjorhus

Star Tribune https://www.startribune.com/minnesota-lawmakers-propose-ban-and-moratorium-on-copper-mining/600010215/

January 13, 2021

Efforts to slow copper-mining's advance into Minnesota are intensifying, with state lawmakers proposing a prohibitive measure that would require mining companies to show proof that a similar non-iron, hard-rock mine has operated safely elsewhere.

More is in the works, including companion state and federal bills to ban copper mining on federal lands next to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

Those are slated to be introduced shortly in Minnesota and Congress. Such bans would kill the proposed Twin Metals copper mine that Chilean mining giant Antofagasta wants to build.

Efforts at the federal level may have more lift now with the advance of President-elect Joe Biden's more environmentally friendly administration and the slight Democratic edge in the U.S. Senate. Not as much has changed in Minnesota's Capitol, said Alexandra Klass, who teaches environmental law at the University of Minnesota Law School. "In Minnesota we don't really have a change that would make this more palatable," she said.

The "Prove It First" legislation, based on a similar law that was on the books in Wisconsin, was introduced in Minnesota on Wednesday. It's backed by Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness and 16 state lawmakers, all Democrats, some of whom spoke at a news conference.

"We are not willing in northern Minnesota to be a test case for these billionaires to do their experiments on our water and our public health. We are just not," said lead author Sen. Jen McEwen, a Duluth DFLer.

The broad bill is a moratorium of sorts and covers any kind of hard rock, or non-iron ore, mine anywhere in Minnesota. To proceed, regulators would have to demonstrate independent scientific evidence that a similar mine that operated for at least 10 years, and that has been closed for at least 10 years, did not release pollutants as defined in state statute.

Advocates say it's a common-sense way to protect all Minnesota waters, and human health, from copper mining pollution.

The Wisconsin law it was modeled after, which took effect in 1998, was later repealed in an effort led by former Republican Gov. Scott Walker.

Copper mining supporters in Minnesota immediately attacked the measure as a move to kill an industry.

"This effort, by a few misinformed legislators, will kill an opportunity for Minnesota to provide the critical minerals needed for both a green economy, as well as essential for our health care industry," said Frank Ongaro, executive director of Mining Minnesota. "Prove it first? Done! That is what our current system is designed to do."
Ban on mining

Separately, the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters, U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum, and state lawmakers are slated to hold a news conference Thursday to discuss efforts to ban copper mining near the Boundary Waters.

That more targeted legislation would permanently ban copper mining in the Minnesota portion of the Rainy River Watershed that drains into the Boundary Waters, an area of about 11,000 square miles. It would provide more permanent protection for the Boundary Waters than the "Prove it First" moratorium, advocates said.

When McCollum, a St. Paul Democrat, introduced the ban last year it did not make it to the House floor.

But there may be a shift under the Biden administration. The incoming president's pick for secretary of agriculture, Tom Vilsack, who has say on mining in federal forests, has been public about his desire to protect the Boundary Waters. In 2018 he penned a commentary for the nonprofit news website Minn­Post calling the wilderness "priceless" and a potent economic engine for northern Minnesota.

State Rep. Kelly Morrison, DFL-Deephaven, and lead author of the proposed ban in Minnesota, said she expects to introduce the bill any day now. Morrison also supports "Prove It First," and she said she sees no conflict between them.

"I see them as complementary," she said, adding that many lawmakers support both.

The Twin Metals mine near Ely and the Glencore-backed PolyMet mine near Babbitt and Hoyt Lakes would be Minnesota's first hard-rock mines — a much riskier type of mining than iron ore and taconite mining because it exposes crushed sulfide-bearing ore to the elements, which creates toxic sulfuric acid, known as acid mine drainage.

Metals mining is highly polluting, and nearly half of all the documented toxic chemical releases into the environment last year were from this sector, according to the latest federal data.



Lawmakers, environmental groups announce "Prove it First" bill

https://www.wdio.com/mining-news/prove-it-first-copper-nickel-mining-lawmakers/5976492/

January 13, 2021

It would require scientific proof before any copper-nickel mine could be permitted. Specifically, the proof would be that a similar mine has operated elsewhere in the United States for at least 10 years, and has been closed for at least 10 years, without causing pollution.

Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness, MN Center for Environmental Advocacy, WaterLegacy, Sierra Club, and Duluth for Clean Water are all part of the effort.

So is the new state senator from Duluth, Jen McEwen, along with other state lawmakers. "I'm proud to be a lead author on this legislation," she said. "We are not willing to be a test case for a bunch of super wealthy, billionaire corporations, who want to come in and do these experimental projects that put our economy and our public health at risk. We are going to insist they prove it first."

The group said this is based on a law that passed with bipartisan support in Wisconsin.

PolyMet already has been fully permitted for their project, although some have been suspended by the courts. The company plans to mine near Babbitt, and process at the former LTV site in Hoyt Lakes.

They sent a statement, saying, "If you want to have iPhones and tablets, and metals to provide renewable energy and various other critical products such as wind turbines and solar arrays, you have to be able to mine the metals that make it possible. This legislation is ill-advised and completely unnecessary. PolyMet completed the most comprehensive, science-based environmental review and permitting process in the state’s history. We should be mining for copper, nickel, cobalt and other metals needed to build a green economy right here in Minnesota, where we have the most stringent environmental standards in the world, while bringing much needed jobs and economic diversity and prosperity to the Iron Range and the state."

Twin Metals has started the environmental review process with the state. They plan to mine near Ely and Babbitt, and have an office in Ely. They sent a statement, saying, "“We already have prove it first in Minnesota. It’s called the regulatory process. The geology, hydrology, mining methods and site-specific details vary for each project, and we need to trust our agencies and institutions to consistently evaluate each one based on science and fact. Twin Metals Minnesota has spent more than a decade developing its proposed copper, nickel, cobalt and platinum group metals mine, which is now under review. We will have to prove we can meet the standards in place before earning permits to mine. This is the right process to evaluate projects – we should no more have blanket approvals of projects than blanket denials.”

Jobs for Minnesotans released the following statement in response that reads, in part, “This bill is not an attempt to strengthen the regulatory process, it’s simply an attempt to kill the mining industry in Minnesota and issue a blanket denial to projects that ultimately are essential to the future transition to green energy sources. Those backing this legislation ignore the fact that there have been non-ferrous mines that have opened, operated and closed in similar climates that have successfully protected the environment and remain in compliance in our country. Look to the Flambeau mine in Wisconsin and the Eagle mine in Michigan."

Nancy Norr, the chair of the Jobs for Minnesotans, added, "We have had successful non-ferrous mines operating in the upper Midwest. And we have one operating now, the Eagle Mine. I've personally visited that mine, after it opened. It started in 2014, and continues to be in compliance with all of its permits."

She went on to say, "Our message is consistent. Follow the established regulatory process. Hold these projects to a high standard. They do need to prove it, through the permitting process."

And MiningMinnesota sent over a statement as well, that reads, in part, "This approach by the anti-mining groups is not new. They tried it in Wisconsin. Wisconsin demonstrated they can successfully operate, close, and reclaim a copper nickel mine. As a result, Wisconsin repealed their terrible law. Make no mistake, this is legislation designed to kill a way of life. The bill is unnecessary. It does nothing to improve the environment. Its only purpose is to stop this industry from providing needed domestic sources of critical metals before it gets started. It also chases investment away from Minnesota."

The environmental groups say they have 16 Democrats who support the bill, but no Republicans.

 

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