Erik – 81% of Minnesotans want our state agencies like the Pollution Control Agency and the DNR to do a better job of enforcing our environmental protection laws. (http://www.startribune.com/opinion/commentary/112403989.html) That doesn’t seem like a “scant few” to me.
The problem is that if there’s a chance we could do this mining without polluting, it’s only going to happen because our government agencies work on behalf of the citizens and our clean water, and not just grease the skids and fast-track mining projects. Mining companies will operate to generate the highest profit possible, which is simply their nature, and we must hold them accountable to walk their talk about “environmental responsibility.”
But our agencies haven’t been doing their job. In October, the Friends of the Boundary Waters Released information, which was reported by every paper in the state, that a 36-year-old mining exploration site, less than 3 miles from the BWCAW, has been leaching toxic pollution for decades. (http://www.startribune.com/local/104188178.html) The PCA has known about it, but won’t address the issue. The mining company that caused the pollution? Long gone. If we want to clean up the mess, it’ll be up to the taxpayers of Minnesota to pay for it.
A month later, we find a story in the paper about a new special unit recently set up in the MPCA that multiple sources inside the agency said is fast-tracking politically-favored projects, like these new sulfide mines which our state has absolutely no experience reviewing or permitting. http://www.startribune.com/local/106828988.html
What’s the industry doing? They’re working furiously behind the scenes to weaken our environmental protections. So far, in the past couple months, we’ve seen attempts by the MPCA to relax water quality standards for manganese (http://minnesota.publicradio.org/display/web/2010/11/22/manganese-drinking-water/) and sulfates (http://minnesota.publicradio.org/display/web/2010/11/28/wild-rice-standards/), two key pollutants that result from sulfide mining.
How does the industry get such favors from the MPCA? By hiring the former commissioner as a lobbyist! http://www.startribune.com/local/56781297.html
Need I go on?
The point is that Minnesotans greatly value clean water. It’s our lakes that define us, and are a big part of our state’s identity. These new mines will be around for 20 or 30 years, they’ll employ half the number of people they’re promising, and when the mineral deposits are cleaned out, they’ll inevitably dissolve, file for bankruptcy, and leave taxpayers holding the bag.
It’s not just environmental radicals that are concerned about this prospect. Heck, more people in the 8th District, the big mining district, want strong “damage deposit” laws than in the 4th or 5th District. Why? Because people in the Eighth have dealt with mining companies before and know you better get the money up front. These companies don’t exist to create jobs. They exist to extract minerals as efficiently as possible. They’ll bring in skilled workers from elsewhere in the country for the most high-paying jobs. They’ll automate the mines as much as possible, and they’ll leave you and me to pay for it.