U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan and others seeking to prevent independent court review of the PolyMet land exchange aren’t walking a fine line (“Rep. Nolan walks ‘a very fine line,’ ” July 14) when they say they want to reduce America’s carbon footprint while still promoting the PolyMet copper-nickel mine proposal. In fact, they are feeding us a line — to benefit a small group of multibillion-dollar foreign corporate investors at the expense of climate change, as well as at the expense of our Minnesota water quality and public lands.
The PolyMet mine project proposed for Minnesota would be a climate-change disaster. Over its 20-year mine plan, PolyMet admits that it would produce as much as 15.8 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent pollution — more than 10 million tons from its burning of fossil fuels alone.
To get an idea of the scope of the huge carbon footprint that this mine proposal would impose on Minnesota, PolyMet’s carbon dioxide equivalent emissions of 707,342 metric tons per year would be more than one-fourth of the CO2 equivalent calculated in a 2011 report for the entire city of Duluth — including the commercial, industrial, residential, transportation and waste sectors.
In addition to burning fossil fuels, the PolyMet mine would directly destroy 913 acres of our peatlands and wetlands and negatively impact thousands more acres as a result of mine drawdown and pollution. According to a report done for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources in 2008, one mine project destroying 1,000 acres of peatlands would release 2.7 million tons of CO2, increasing total Minnesota annual carbon dioxide emissions by 2 percent due to wetlands destruction alone.
Nonferrous metals are needed for modern technology. But recycling and reusing copper, rather than mining and processing copper, would save 90 percent of the fossil-fuel energy used by a project like PolyMet. Copper can be recycled over and over and still retain its value.
Copper recycling also would create good jobs in Minnesota and across the United States. A 2017 industry study found that metals recycling provides more than 534,500 American jobs, with an economic impact of nearly $117 billion a year.
PolyMet’s proposed open-pit copper-nickel mine is unnecessary as well as a climate-change horror. But what about PolyMet’s claims that it will use modern technology and comply with laws to protect our environment and taxpayers? That’s just another line being fed to Minnesotans by PolyMet.
The PolyMet mine is a low-grade copper-nickel deposit. More than 99 percent of what would be blasted out of the earth would become waste.
PolyMet’s permanent waste facilities — its mammoth tailing basin and 526-acre waste rock pile — would be unlined, allowing contamination to seep into groundwater and well up to surface water used by Minnesotans. To save its own money, PolyMet ruled out best available technology to remove water from tailings so dams won’t collapse and flood downstream waters with pollution. More recently, PolyMet has proposed to eliminate the water treatment plant at its mine site and resisted upfront funding that would protect Minnesota taxpayers from being stuck with the likely $934 million bill for long-term water quality treatment. From the land swap of public lands through plans for long-term pollution treatment, PolyMet is trying to do its sulfide mine project on the cheap — at our expense.
As for following laws designed to protect public lands and the environment, even before a single permit has been issued to PolyMet its proponents are wielding a political end-run to circumvent court review of whether the PolyMet land exchange is legal. Clearly, PolyMet and its political patrons will only follow due process if they think the process is going their way.
Congressman Nolan’s bill to compel the PolyMet land exchange reflects an important line, not between political parties, but between values. One side wants to provide short-term mining profit for PolyMet’s foreign investors at great cost to all Minnesotans. We must choose the other side, to protect Minnesota’s climate, water, wetlands, due process, and future generations.
Paula Goodman Maccabee is advocacy director and counsel for WaterLegacy, a Minnesota nonprofit founded to protect Minnesota’s water resources and the communities that rely on them.