Opinion editor's note: The following article was submitted by Chris Knopf, executive director of Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness, and several members or members-elect of the Minnesota Legislature. The legislators are listed below.
Recent reporting in the Star Tribune ("Zero room for error," Dec. 13) makes it clear that Twin Metals' plan to build a copper-sulfide mine at the edge of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness is a reckless proposal that is heavy on talking points but slim on evidence. As the experts cited in the article point out, the Chilean-owned company's promise to have "a zero-discharge mine" that would not pollute the surrounding water system has never been done before.
In the article, a Twin Metals' representative touts the fact that they have worked with engineers and consultants in designing plans for this hypothetical zero-discharge mine, but they cannot point to one mine that has achieved such a standard. Despite lack of evidence, Twin Metals routinely claims that the technology has improved, and that copper-sulfide mining, which has never been done in Minnesota and has a perfect record of pollution, can safely be done without polluting the Boundary Waters.
Twin Metals is not offering proof, rather, it is asking Minnesotans to trust it. It is asking Minnesota to be the guinea pig for unproven technology.
Considering that other mines designed to be "zero-discharge" have both polluted and resulted in catastrophic environmental disasters, it's reasonable to ask for proof. Especially if one of the parties involved is a notoriously polluting industry seeking to operate next to America's most visited wilderness area.
In this spirit, the co-authors of this article, who are members of the Minnesota Legislature, are working with Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness and other environmental organizations to enact a "Prove It First" law in Minnesota. This common-sense law would ask mining companies to put their money where their mouth is. Simply put, a "Prove It First" law would require an applicant seeking a permit to open a copper-sulfide mine to prove that such a mine can be operated and closed without causing pollution. Before they put a shovel into the ground, operators of a copper-sulfide mine would need to show Minnesotans an example of a copper-sulfide mine that has operated elsewhere in the United States for at least 10 years and has been closed for 10 years, without causing pollution.
It's easy to make claims about "zero discharge" and no pollution and say that a copper-sulfide mine can safely operate next to a watery wilderness. Any public relations agency can massage these talking points so that it tests well with a broad audience.
We don't want nice-sounding words or inspiring promises. We simply want proof.
If Twin Metals, PolyMet and the allies of copper-sulfide mining truly believe their claims, they should embrace this standard of proof.
Legislative co-authors of this article include Rep. Jim Davnie, DFL-Minneapolis; Rep. Kelly Morrison, DFL-Deephaven; Rep. Alice Hausman, DFL-St. Paul; Rep. Steve Sandell, DFL-Woodbury; Sen.-elect Jen McEwen, DFL-Duluth; Sen. Chris Eaton, DFL-Brooklyn Center; Sen. John Marty, DFL-Roseville; Sen.-elect Lindsey Port, DFL-Burnsville; Sen. Steve Cwodzinski, DFL-Eden Prairie; Sen.-elect Ann Johnson Stewart, DFL-Wayzata; and Sen. Patricia Torres-Ray, DFL-Minneapolis.