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Minnesota lawmakers want tougher metal mining storage rules

May 10, 2019 GMT

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Some Minnesota lawmakers want to tighten rules for the safe storage of toxic waste from metal mining.

Legislators are proposing new regulations as two proposed copper-nickel mines in northern Minnesota have raised concerns that they’ll pollute Lake Superior and Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness waters, the Star Tribune reported.

Tainted water and byproducts from mining, known as tailings, are usually stored in big ponds or behind dams.

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Republican state Sen. Paul Anderson said dam failures have been increasing across the region. He said the Legislature needs to address the issue to prevent storage failures that could release tailings and cause serious water pollution.

“This is a conversation starter,” Anderson said.

The new rules would require metal mining storage structure designs to meet Canadian safety guidelines and be approved by an independent group of engineers. Companies would also have to create plans for managing the dams and undergo annual inspections.

Officials at the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, which oversees mine permitting in the state, expressed hesitance to the proposed rules.

Jess Richards, the department’s assistant commissioner, said the bill is vague in many areas “and includes language that would conflict with existing mining and dam safety laws.”

“The DNR would be available to discuss dam safety in Minnesota,” Richards said. “However, this sweeping proposal begins with a single solution, rather than a broad and inclusive conversation that involves the full range affected stakeholders.”

Frank Ongaro, executive director of industry coalition Mining Minnesota, called the proposal unnecessary, saying that the department already has tailing basin safety measures in place.

The safety concerns come as the state considers two copper-nickel mine proposals.

PolyMet Mining Corp. has cleared most of the state’s regulatory hurdles to build an open-pit mine near Babbit. But the mine is still held up by litigation, including challenges to its state-issued permits and lawsuits pending in federal court.

Twin Metals Minnesota, a subsidiary of Chilean mining company Antofagasta, is in the early stages of seeking regulatory approvals for its proposed underground copper-nickel mine near Ely.

Lawmakers will consider the regulatory proposals in the fall.

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Information from: Star Tribune, http://www.startribune.com