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Letter to the editor: Cautious approach to copper mining needed

I am writing in response to the letter last week from Jenny Reinertson concerning mining in our area. Obviously this is an important issue that has many ramifications for all of us. I would like to add a few observations on the topic.

First, I believe the main environmental concern is focused on potential impacts on ground and surface water quality, not global warming. To their credit, mining company officials, as well as our elected officials, have stated that their intention is to only mine if they can do it in a way that preserves and protects water quality in the area. This is commendable, but the question in many minds is how is this going to be done. It is likely that Reinertson is right, and Minnesota PCA employees want to protect our environment and public health. However, there is evidence that the track record of the state in enforcing environmental standards or existing mines and reclamation sites is somewhat lacking (i.e. reports of leaking berms at mining sites and pollution in the St Louis River).

Even if the employees of MPCA are well intentioned, a lack of adequate funding and personnel can result in applications for permits that are not thoroughly vetted and permitted operations not being adequately monitored. This might explain why some people are nervous about the reassurance that MPCA will take care of things. The original Polymet Environmental Impact Study was approved at the state level, before being declared grossly unsatisfactory by the EPA. We all hope the next version is adequate.

The second area of comment is related to the reference that Reinertson made regarding U.S. Rep. Nolan's support of efforts to "streamline" the mining approval process. Some may view this as streamlining, while others might interpret it as an effort to change the rules in the middle of the game. There have also been efforts at the state level to change the processes and regulations that apply to mining. If the goal is to reassure the public that water resources will be protected, weakening public accountability in the process doesn't send a good message.

One last comment on the idea of locating mines here is a good idea, because, at least, we have better rules safeguarding the environment, than third world countries. This makes me wonder why the mining companies don't go to the third world countries to do their mining, and not have worry about water quality. My only guess is that it has to do with the fact that the minerals in this area are billed as the "largest undeveloped deposits of copper and other related minerals in the world". Our area is in the spotlight, because this is where the resources are. So what is wrong with taking our time, and getting it right so that we have good jobs, well planned development (not like what happened in North Dakota as a result of the oil/gas boom), and ensure we don't permanently damage the boundary waters or Lake Superior and all the areas in between. We should be smart enough and patient enough to do that.