Duluth-Superior Meeting’s Minute on Copper-Nickel Mining in North Minnesota

Before the Minute and attached resources, see excerpts below from an email from Bart Sutter, Duluth-Superior Peace and Social Concerns Committee, sent to TCFM Peace & Community Involvement Committee, about this Minute. TCFM friends will want to note that Bart will be speaking about the spiritual aspects of this copper-nickel mining issue at the Prospect Hill Meeting, Sunday afternoon, February 9. He would also be available to meet with TCFM earlier in the day – we’ll publish an update about that, if something gets organized. Also note the public comment opportunities in the Twin Cities. Bart mentioned that WaterLegacy (http://www.waterlegacy.org) offers helpful resources in preparing for the public hearings.

(From Bart Sutter): Duluth-Superior Quakers are feeling surprisingly buoyant after passing through the public hearing on the PolyMet NorthMet project in Duluth last Thursday [Jan 16]. Thirteen hundred people were present, which, if nothing else, indicates growing awareness and concern about this issue. Our little band of Quakers made up only 1% of the audience, but because of our willingness to speak, we contributed 10% of the vocal testimony.

Written comments on the PolyMet NorthMet project are being received by the MN DNR for all the lead agencies involved, the others being the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Forest Service. TCFM Quakers who wish to send a written comment may send an e-mail to or write a U.S. mail letter (which we recommend) to

Lisa Fay, EIS Project Manager
MDNR Division of Ecological and Water Resources
Environmental Review Unit
500 Lafayette Road, Box 25
Saint Paul, MN 55155-4025

The deadline for written public comments is 4:30 p.m. on March 13th. Those who wish to comment in person might attend the public hearing at St. Paul RiverCentre: open house at 5 p.m.; formal presentation at 6:45; and public comments through 10 p.m.

The reference material on this issue can be overwhelming, but we’ve suggested some valuable sources as a supplement to our Minute. Quakers need not get lost in the weeds, however; we need straightforward comments from ordinary citizens, as well as from those with expertise.

Bart Sutter, Clerk
Peace and Social Concerns Committee
Duluth-Superior Friends Meeting

Duluth-Superior Friends Minute on Copper-Nickel Mining in Northern Minnesota

As Quakers, we are called to live simply, to care for the creation, and to husband resources. In light of that calling, we have been concerned to understand the implications of copper-nickel mining proposed for northern Minnesota by PolyMet, Twin Metals, and other corporations.

Our research leaves us deeply troubled. Traditional mining in this state has been very different from the copper-nickel mining now proposed. Iron ore deposits in northern Minnesota were so rich that originally iron was, essentially, just scooped out of the ground; the copper-nickel deposit, by comparison, is exceptionally poor. About 99% of the rock from which the metals must be extracted would be waste, and much of it would have to be ground to the consistency of powder. This waste rock bears sulfide. Sulfide-bearing rock exposed to air and water yields sulfuric acid, producing forms of pollution (including mercury, arsenic, lead, and other toxins) that, according to PolyMet’s own documents, will last at least 500 years.

Proponents of copper-nickel mining argue that our current way of life demands these metals, that opening these mines will provide high-paying jobs, and that new technology will prevent pollution. All of these claims weaken drastically when scrutinized.

Yes, our current way of life requires copper; however, since copper scrap already provides half of U.S. annual demand for that metal and the U.S. provides 23% of the world supply of recovered copper, recycling holds tremendous potential for fulfilling most of this nation’s needs. Given the devastation that copper-nickel mining commonly leaves in its wake, we are also led to question the wisdom of our current way of life.

The argument that copper-nickel mining will boost the regional economy seems a half-truth at best. Typically, mining companies import their expertise from elsewhere; only half the jobs promised by the mining companies are apt to go to local residents; the highest-paid positions will be taken by outsiders, who will leave the area once the mine has been exploited. Mines are also subject to shutdowns when market prices drop. The metals extracted from these mines will likely be exported; the profits will go to share-holders around the world rather than the residents of northern Minnesota. History predicts that once these mines are exhausted, their owners will declare bankruptcy and absolve themselves of responsibility for damage left behind.

The argument that new technology will prevent pollution is little more than wishful thinking. Sooner or later, copper-nickel waste rock creates acid mine drainage, which often eats its way to ground water. New technology remains experimental, untested on an industrial scale, while exploratory drill sites in northern Minnesota are already leaking acid. Even if technology can be developed to treat copper-nickel pollution effectively, who will pay for, operate, and maintain this technology twenty-four hours a day, day after day for 500 years or more? Corporations come and go; so do governments.

We understand the hunger for jobs in northern Minnesota, though people have lived here for thousands of years without depending on paychecks from multinational corporations. Over the past two decades, while the mining workforce shrank, the economy diversified and grew less vulnerable to the boom-and-bust cycle of the mining industry. We support continued diversification. We support selective, sustainable-yield logging and the development of value-added forest products. We support farming and local food production. We support outdoor recreation, an industry worth billions of dollars every year. And we support iron mining, which is undergoing a revival thanks to new methods and products, although we think this industry requires stricter regulation.

We believe enthusiasm for copper-nickel mining is short-sighted. We are reminded of the Old Testament story in which Esau, entering his father’s tent, ravenous from his hunting expedition, sold his birthright for a bowl of stew. Copper-nickel mining, always risky for humans and their environment, is least dangerous in arid settings; but northern Minnesota, the site of three major watersheds, is one of the richest sources of freshwater in the world. Such wealth requires our most careful stewardship.

After months of study and reflection, with regard not only for ourselves but also for our neighbors and those creatures great and small with whom we share this region, the Duluth-Superior Friends Meeting declares its opposition to copper-nickel mining in northern Minnesota.

Approved by D-S Friends Meeting for Worship with Attention to Business, 1 Dec. 2013

Sources and Suggestions for Study

  • Bertossi, Teresa and Gabriel Caplett, eds. Headwaters News: Special Issue: Mining, Land & Water (Spring 2010). Print.
  • Carter, Bill. Boom, Bust, Boom: A Story about Copper, the Metal that Rules the World.             New York: Simon & Schuster, 2012. Print.
  • Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries, Inc. The Scrap Recycling Industry: Nonferrous Scrap, 2011. (fact sheet) Print.
  • Myers, John. “PolyMet study: Water would need 500 years of treatment.” Duluth News Tribune, Oct. 5, 2013. Print.
  • Precious Waters: Minnesota’s Sulfide Mining Controversy at http://www.preciouswaters.org -Video.
  • Save Lake Superior. Metallic Sulfide Mining #1: What’s Wrong With PolyMet’s NorthMet Mine? (fact sheet) On-line and Print.
  • Save Lake Superior. Metallic Sulfide Mining #2: Track Record: Can sulfide ores be mined safely? (fact sheet) On-line and Print.
  • Save Lake Superior. Metallic Sulfide Mining #3: Sulfide Mining Projects in Minnesota. (fact sheet) On-line and Print.
  • Save Lake Superior. Metallic Sulfide Mining #4: Is Northern Minnesota a good location for sulfide mining? (fact sheet) On-line and Print.
  • WaterLegacy. What are the Facts? PolyMet and Copper Sulfide Mining in MN, 2011. (fact sheet) Print.

Some Websites and Organizations Worth Consulting

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