5 things to know about Prove It First

Advocacy

What is our most precious resource?

The answer is more apparent than you think.

It’s water.

Water is indispensable. Most of us take this for granted because water is all around us — especially in Minnesota. Yet the state that humbly brags about being home to 10,000 lakes (actually there are 11,842) faces one of the greatest threats to clean water in a generation.

Copper-sulfide mining.

Two proposed copper-sulfide mines, PolyMet and Twin Metals, pose a dangerous threat to some of the cleanest water in Minnesota, and the United States. At stake are Lake Superior and the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness — the most visited Wilderness Area in the country.

The foreign mining conglomerates who want to open these toxic mines have embarked on a misinformation campaign rife with gaslighting and greenwashing. They claim that these mines will be different. That somehow these mines will not pollute the famously pristine waters of northeastern Minnesota (though they never say how).

It’s easy to hire a marketing agency and PR team to spread lies, but where’s the proof?

To cut through all the rhetoric, Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness worked with legislators in the Minnesota House and Senate to introduce a simple, commonsense bill that would simply require mining companies to prove that there has been at least one copper-sulfide mine in the North America that has operated for 10 years and that has been closed for ten years, without causing pollution.

It’s all in the name: Prove It First.

A large coalition of elected officials, organizations and businesses have rallied around the bill, creating a movement that will protect the Boundary Waters, Lake Superior and all of Minnesota’s waters from this toxic industry.

The more people learn about Prove It First, the more people support it.

Here are five things to know about Prove It First.

1. Metal mining is most polluting industry in the United States

According to the EPA, 44% of all industrial pollution in the United States comes from metal mining. On a global level, researchers in the journal Nature estimate that mining for primary metal and mineral production accounts for approximately 10% of the total global energy-related greenhouse gas emissions.

This is an enormous amount of pollution from one industry!

Copper-sulfide mining — the kind being proposed at the edge of the Boundary Waters — is particularly dangerous. The reason for this is that the trace amount of copper that would be mined is bound up in sulfide-bearing ores. When these ores are exposed to water or oxygen, they produces sulfuric acid — the same chemical as battery acid.

Simply put, this type of mining is inherently polluting. It will always produce acid mine drainage.

And this pollution won’t stay put. Because northeastern Minnesota has such an abundant amount of water, the pollution will spread. The vast, interconnected water system will carry pollution through millions of acres of water, damaging an entire ecosystem.

Because of the abundance of water at the edge of the Boundary Waters, water that would spread the pollution far and wide, it would be hard to pick a worse spot for a toxic copper-sulfide mine.

2. Minnesota has no effective way to regulate this type of mining

Minnesota has a rich history of iron mining, however, there has never been a copper or nickel mine in the state.

Copper-sulfide mining, as proposed by PolyMet and Twin Metals, is much different — and more polluting — than the traditional form of iron mining that has been done in Minnesota, and the state does not have laws that protect against this toxic industry. The rules governing sulfide mining are merely guidelines that can be interpreted and manipulated by the DNR Commissioner, a non-elected official who may not have the needed expertise or understanding in the area of sulfide mining.

To put it plainly: If sulfide mining, the most polluting industry in the country, comes to Minnesota, the state doesn’t have the laws or safeguards in place to regulate this toxic industry. There are no standards the industry must meet when it comes to clean water, land reclamation, containing the toxic mining waste, and so on. Further, there are no legal consequences.

Imagine if there weren’t laws, but guidelines for driving on the road. If there were vague suggestions on what to do when you came to a stop sign, how fast to go, and people had some leeway when it came to interpreting a red light.

The environmental review process is not designed to stop these dangerous projects. The agencies in charge of issuing permits for non-ferrous mines — the Pollution Control Agency and the Department of Natural Resources — both issued permits to PolyMet that have since been overturned.

The Minnesota Supreme Court has struck down PolyMet’s permit to mine. The Minnesota Court of Appeals has suspended its waste water permit and the Army Corps of Engineers has suspended its wetlands destruction permit. The air pollution permit is under review at the Court of Appeals. The Inspector General of the EPA released a damning report that EPA failed to properly oversee the project.

The system is broken and does not protect human health or the environment. After three governors, multiple second chances and almost two decades, there is a mountain of evidence of how clumsy, dangerous and flawed this permitting process is.

All this — and more — underlines just how badly we need new laws to protect our water and our wilderness from this toxic type of mining.

3. Mining companies are fighting the bill

One of the most common and most disingenuous talking points the mining industry and their allies love to make is that, despite all evidence and a perfect record of pollution, PolyMet and Twin Metals will not pollute.

They claim that new technology will allow them to mine in a safe, pollution-free manner.

But they have no proof of this.

Why? Because what they are claiming is impossible!

If they were confident that this notoriously toxic form of mining could be done safely, then they should have no problem offering proof of other mines that did not pollute.

They would embrace Prove It First legislation.

But they don’t. They have been fighting it. Because, just like there is no proof of unicorns, there is no proof of a copper-sulfide mine that does not pollute.

Instead, they are asking us to take their word, to skip over science, facts and evidence, and believe their empty promises.

4. The bill is based on a Wisconsin law that blocked all new sulfide mining projects in the state

In 1998, the Wisconsin legislature passed — with overwhelming bipartisan support— a similar Prove It First bill that was signed into law by a Republican governor.

For the 20 years, no new sulfide mine broke ground in Wisconsin. The simple reason was that no sulfide mining project could prove that it would not pollute. Unfortunately, the law was repealed by Governor Scott Walker in 2018.

5. Prove It First gained enormous support among lawmakers

Since its introduction into the Minnesota Legislature in January, 2021, 64 representatives and senators have publicly announced their support of Prove It First. The bill gained a maximum number of cosponsors in the House of Representatives. In Minnesota, Prove It has the most support of any major environmental legislation since the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment passed more than a decade ago.

The more people learn about Prove It First, the more they support it.

Thousands of clean water advocates have banded together to lay a solid groundwork for the bill. But your voice is needed to pass this bill!

Please take a moment to contact your state legislature and tell them to support clean water. Tell them to support Prove It First.

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Inspired by the North

For painter Tom Uttech, trips to Quetico and the northland provided a lifetime of inspiration and shaped his art.