Your Task

  1. Read the overall briefing materials (current and proposed wild rice standards, Environmental Justice Framework, timeline) and note key points.

  2. Read your group’s briefing materials on this page and note key points.

  3. Discuss an appropriate standard for wild rice protection from mining companies and miners’ standpoints, considering political, economic, social, and cultural factors.

  4. Fill in the Rainbow Diagram for Stakeholder Visualization. Think about the following questions:

    • Differences within your group (is there a shared worldview?).

    • How much influence your group has, or might have?

    • How the group has or might exert that influence?

    • How large is the group or how large could it become?

    • How is the group organized to make decisions?

    • What are the financial resources or social capital of the group?

  5. Consider if your group is “affected by” or is “affecting” wild rice protection, or both.

  6. Prepare key talking points for a brief presentation of your group’s analysis, above.

  7. Read the highlights from the MPCA’s Final Technical Support Document: Refinements to Minnesota’s Sulfate Water Quality Standard to Protect Wild Rice
  8. Review the multimedia resources below.
  • Read the highlights from the MPCA’s Final Technical Support Document: Refinements to Minnesota’s Sulfate Water Quality Standard to Protect Wild Rice
  • Review the multimedia resources below

Overview

The “Iron Range,” or “The Range,” a mountain range in northeastern Minnesota bears its name because of the geology of the area. The taconite (ore pellets used for steel) mined from The Range created a thriving, livable-wage, middle class economy in a naturally beautiful area of pine forests and lakes. The “Rangers,” who mined and supported mining, built an industry across the Midwest. This industry still provides a valuable resource in international markets, as taconite gets sent to China, along with other places around the world. The Range gave economic opportunity to generations of new immigrants and to their children. The philanthropy associated with the mining companies still supports communities and families in need and is, in many ways, the backbone of The Range. While tourism matters too, the security and opportunity offered by mining jobs is unrivaled. Mining companies, communities, and mining families on The Range believe that Minnesota is ready for the challenge of a new mining economy and can manage the environmental impacts in a way that will keep the environment—and wild rice—protected.

The High Cost of Enforcing the Sulfate Standard

With new mining on The Range, the high cost of enforcing the current sulfate standard (10 mg/l limit) is a serious problem for current copper-sulfate (“hard rock”) mining proposals like PolyMet. An additional problem for The Range communities is the possibility that water treatment plants run by cities would violate the standard and be required to upgrade their facilities at costs beyond their financial capacities. The past (and current) taconite mining operations have not been as much of an environmental challenge to manage, representing less of a threat to water quality, ecosystems, and plants like wild rice, than copper sulfate. Keeping water as clean as in the past, as well as enforcing laws in ways that had not been done in the past, will come with a cost. The Range communities are indicating that they are not ready to bear that cost.

Political leaders on The Range believe that wild rice crops can be protected without enforcing the current sulfate standard (the limit). They would strongly prefer no standard at all and frequently note that other states do not have a standard, but they may be signalling a willingness to work with the MPCA-proposed lake-by-lake standard. The proposed standard would work particularly well if lakes that currently do not have wild rice plants growing, including the river near the PolyMet site, are excluded from the definition of “wild rice waters.” Many Rangers are wild rice harvesters or are involved with outdoor activities and conservation in other ways, so are not willing to face destruction of wild rice.

University of Arizona Superfund Research Program. (2012). Copper mining and processing: Life cycle of a mine. Retrieved from (Source).

Sustainability and Mining

Given that Minnesotans and U.S. residents use vast amounts of technology made from products of copper sulfate mining, considering sustainability at a global level is appropriate. If copper sulfate mining and the pollution that occurs does not happen in Minnesota, then where would it? In order to consider mining in a more sustainable way, incorporating negative impacts with social benefits over the whole life of a mine using a “life cycle” approach is important. Calculating the costs of remediation after a mine closes or there is a leak during operation is a part of the process. There is academic research on sustainable mining that addresses internationally developed, sustainable development goals and envisions mining operations that do not cause harm to future generations.

Converting wastewater treatment plants for cities and mines to treat discharges and meet the proposed MPCA standard could cost more than $1 billion collectively. ..If cities are burdened with the cost of upgrading wastewater plants, for example, it will be the residents on the hook for that cost through increased utility bills, — an estimated $100 per month increase.

Jerry BurnesMesabi Daily News

Polymet and the Battle for Minnesota’s $1 trillion mining jackpot

Brad Moore, PolyMet Mining’s Executive Vice President for Environmental and Governmental Affairs, talks about how responsible mining of Minnesota’s natural resources is possible through the PolyMet project. He explains that the copper-nickel mining, also called sulfide mining, project will protect the environment, including Minnesota’s wild rice, by meeting federal and state regulations.

In the 2nd video, learn more about how PolyMet has become a major player in Minnesota’s economy.