Other Mines

The Myth of Rigorous Regulation at Existing Mines

When WaterLegacy began working to prevent pollution from the proposed PolyMet sulfide mine, we were often told that if copper-nickel mining had to be done somewhere, it should be done in Minnesota, due to the state’s allegedly tough regulatory standards.

But, Minnesota’s “rigorous regulation” is a myth. When WaterLegacy and citizen scientists looked into water pollution permits for existing taconite and peat mines, it was clear that the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) was not enforcing water quality standards to limit mercury, sulfate, and other toxic pollutants. WaterLegacy has advocated in permitting processes and in court to require both the MPCA and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to control pollution at resulting from existing ferrous (iron and taconite) and peat mining projects.

Potential Sulfide Mining

PolyMet is often described as the “snowplow” that will open the path for other sulfide mines to exploit Minnesota’s copper, nickel, and other sulfide ore minerals and pollute Minnesota waters.

The Twin Metals (Antofagasta) mine has been proposed near the Boundary Waters and the Kennecott (Rio Tinto)/Talon mine is in an advanced exploration stage in the St. Croix and Mississippi watersheds. In addition, sulfide mineral exploration in many areas of northern Minnesota has threatened individual property rights as well as the quality of natural resources.

Portion of Minnesota Dept. of Natural Resources map of Minnesota Minerals (2016)

Preventing Harm from Existing Mines and Potential Sulfide Mines

All the work WaterLegacy does is connected. By opposing PolyMet sulfide mine pollution from environmental review through litigation, we defend science, water resources, health, and justice, while holding state and federal agencies accountable to act in accordance with the law. Expert evidence developed and lessons learned can be applied to prevent pollution and destruction from other mines in Minnesota’s Boundary Waters, Lake Superior, St. Croix, and Mississippi River watersheds.
WaterLegacy’s campaign to require Minnesota to preserve and enforce water quality standards has focused extensively on the wild rice sulfate standard. Wild rice (manoomin) is Minnesota’s state grain, a vital source of sustenance for tribes, and an important food for wildlife and migratory birds. Sulfate pollution also increases mercury contamination of fish, threatening the developing brains of fetuses, infants, and children and disproportionately impact tribal, low-income, and minority communities who depend on fish for subsistence. Preventing harm from mines requires control of sulfate pollution.
WaterLegacy has learned through our work on the PolyMet mine that to protect water quality and downstream communities from industrial discharge – including but not limited to mine discharge – Minnesota’s efforts to control toxic pollutants must keep pace with scientific knowledge. WaterLegacy’s work supports and strengthens tribal authority under the Clean Water Act and holds the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) accountable when the agency fails to do its job to control mining pollution.