A recent Star Tribune story ("Zero room for error," Dec. 13) questioned whether the design for the Twin Metals Minnesota copper-nickel mine can be done successfully.
Our response: Challenge accepted.
We, too, care deeply about the environment, and we believe the science supports this project. We have spent 10 years designing a mine that prioritizes worker safety and environmental protection. The fact of the matter is nothing will proceed with this project if the science doesn't show it can meet the stringent regulatory standards in place designed to protect the environment. And those standards also ensure ongoing monitoring and compliance requirements during operation and closure of a mine.
The story was based on an exaggeration used by our most unscrupulous opponents that our project puts "the fate of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness" at risk. Here's the truth: Not all the science is yet in, but the geography and hydrology of the area in question will not change. Our project lies 20 river miles upstream from the nearest point of the BWCA. No credible expert would ever support the insinuation that "one drop" of water would be measurable at that distance.
Most important, readers deserve to know that the environmental impact study process has just begun. The analysis will produce data on our project that will be available to the public. The DNR's rules regulating our project, which were recently upheld in court, are based on the understanding that regulation must be custom-designed to account for each site's unique characteristics.
Specifically, those laws and rules give several state and federal agencies full authority to identify and assess potential environmental effects from this project. The bottom line is we will not be allowed to impact the BWCA. The law prohibits it, and these assessments will ensure that. They include investigating alternatives and mitigation measures to avoid any potential impacts, then using that information to impose requirements and limitations on permits in order to prevent pollution, impairment or destruction. Sound hard? It is, and it should be. These rules are why we have diligently designed this mine based on proven technology and on our specific mineral deposit.
Additionally, the consultants quoted in the article depend entirely on information from other mining projects. We, too, study other mines to learn lessons that will improve our project. Guidance from the analysis of the Mount Polley disaster, for example, provided a recommendation to use filtered tailings (dry stack), eliminating the potential for a dam failure. To be very clear, the Twin Metals project does not include a dam. And opponents of this project previously advocated for using dry stack tailings management in local mines instead of a dam — even saying that using dry stack tailings would remove most concerns related to copper-nickel mining. Knowing this, one has to wonder why the Star Tribune didn't ask these opponents why they continue to move the goalposts.
The design for this mine would address key points the Dec. 13 story either missed, downplayed or entirely overlooked. We are proposing an underground mine that will use advanced technologies, have limited surface impact, and ensure three things: no acid rock drainage, no discharge of process water and no toxic waste. These features, including the use of dry stack tailings management, make the Twin Metals project vastly different from other copper-nickel mines that opposition groups frequently cite.
With this project, we have the opportunity to provide responsibly sourced minerals essential for fueling the green economy, along with extraordinary economic growth opportunities for northeastern Minnesota. The Duluth Complex, where Twin Metals is proposing to mine, is the world's largest known undeveloped copper-nickel deposit, with 95% of domestic nickel resources, as well as 88% of cobalt and 75% of platinum group metals. These are tremendous resources critical to our country's transition to clean energy technology. To halt the development of these minerals purely because of speculation, and without letting the science and regulatory agencies evaluate the project, would slam the door on an incredible opportunity for Minnesota.
We can mine and protect the environment. Let the science-backed project and regulatory process prove it. If it cannot meet the strict environmental regulatory standards in place, the project won't move forward — plain and simple.
Julie Padilla is chief regulatory officer for Twin Metals Minnesota.