Other Views: No such thing as pollution-free sulfide mining

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John J. Mutter Jr.
Thursday, September 21, 2017

In June 1996, I attended an informational meeting about the possibility of a sulfide mine near Crandon. I knew nothing about sulfide mining, but through the years I had gotten the feeling that mining companies left a mess when they were done.

Toward the end of the meeting, I raised my hand and asked if anyone could refer to a sulfide mine that had created a mess to our environment. About 10 of the 30 people present began to talk, all trying to tell me about a mine here or there that had polluted our environment.

I got involved with the resistance to the proposed Crandon Copper mine. In the two years it took to get a sulfide mining moratorium bill through the Legislature, I was exposed to one dirty mine story after another.

With this recent push to weaken the sulfide mining law, I opened the file I had not looked at in 15 years, and I am reminded of mining disasters all over the world, such as a mining company dumping tons of untreated rock waste into the Ok Tedi River in Papua New Guinea; the leaching of toxic metals into the South Fork of the Coeur d’Alene River in Wallace, Idaho; the gold mine disaster at Summitville, Colorado, and the mining waste piles that had been polluting the New Diggings, Wisconsin, area since the 1920s. Some work has been done at these sites to clean them up, at taxpayer’s expense.

One statement always held up when confronting the mining companies: “Give us an example of just one sulfide mine that hasn’t polluted the environment.” They couldn’t supply one.

Sulfide mining is a dirty business. Search the internet for “Pennies from Hell,” a Montana story by Edwin Dobb. The Environmental Protection Agency Superfund has cleaned up some polluted areas, but there’s a long waiting list, and some in remote areas may never be addressed.

And then we look at the political side, will our president push to cut money to the EPA?

Climate change is going to make the likelihood of mining disasters more common, as we can no longer look at 100-year flood data when building mines but will need to look at 1,000-year flood research.

In a March 21, 1994, Capital Times story by Frankie Locke, Robert Shilling of the Kennecott Mining Company is quoted as saying, “In any project of this magnitude, environmental trade-offs are inevitable... contamination is bound to occur no matter how diligent are the operators.”

A bill in our Legislature, sponsored by Sen. Tom Tiffany, R-Hazelhurst, and Rep. Bob Hutton, R-Brookfield, would weaken the sulfide mining moratorium law. Contact your state representatives and tell them to vote against Senate Bill 395. We want to preserve our clean waters.

I suggest Tiffany and Hutton scrap their ideas of dismantling the moratorium and concentrate on how to get the prices of recycled metals to rise.Then we wouldn’t have such a need for raw materials.

John J. Mutter Jr. is the author of “To Slay a Giant, The Fight to Protect the Wolf River From the Proposed Crandon Copper Mine.”

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