Commentary

The Twin Metals mine would also contribute to the climate crisis | Opinion

July 29, 2021 6:00 am

A coal fired electric power generating plant with lights on at sunrise. Photo by Getty Images.

Vast swaths of the North American West and other places as far-flung as Siberia and Sardinia are dying in heat and flames this summer, while torrential rains have swamped parts of England, Germany and China. The storms in the latter two countries have killed between 200 and 300 people— at least — and caused untold amounts of property damage. Ice in the high latitudes at both ends of the Earth is vanishing at a breakneck pace, with accompanying massive disruptions to climate-controlling currents of water and air. 

This is not new; major changes in weather and climate have been obvious for years, both in the data and anecdotally. It’s just that this year is even more extreme; the evidence suggests we are perilously close to a tipping point.

Every competent climate scientist in the world warns that we can expect more of the same, and indeed much worse, because of the failure of industrialized countries to rein in the greenhouse gases that have been driving rapidly-warming global temperatures. 

Comes now the Center of the American Experiment urging rural electric co-ops in northeastern Minnesota to help worsen climate change. The Center asks the co-ops to vote to authorize the sale for continued operation of Coal Creek Station, a coal-burning power plant that Great River Energy, which supplies electricity to the co-ops, would otherwise have closed and replaced primarily with wind generation. 

How is it possible to be that irresponsible and short-sighted?

The potential purchaser, Rainbow Energy, is a North Dakota energy-trading company that has never operated a power-plant.  It is the beneficiary of $100 million in tax breaks passed by the North Dakota Legislature to give a boost to North Dakota coal mines.  

The Center’s position is doubly foolish. In addition to advocating the continued operation of the coal-fired plant, the Center offers as one of its reasons the plant’s potential to supply electricity to a sulfide-ore copper mine that Chilean mining conglomerate Antofagasta/Twin Metals seeks to build in the Superior National Forest, upstream and on the edge of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. 

Based on the mining company’s government filing, this energy-hungry mine would cause greenhouse gas emissions from electricity generation of 1.723 billion pounds of carbon dioxide per year. 

Sequestering that amount of carbon in nature over the period of a year would require on average 640,000 acres of U.S. forest.

Building the mine that Twin Metals proposes — processing plant, mine access shafts, ventilation stacks, roads, pipeline and power line corridors, waste rock and tailings piles — would destroy thousands of acres of carbon-sequestering forest and wetlands. 

A federal government report prepared for Congress concludes that boreal forest — the kind of forest that a Twin Metals mine would destroy — stores dramatically more carbon in its vegetation and soils than any other kind of terrestrial ecosystem. The amount is nearly twice as much per acre as in a tropical rainforest. Thus the destruction of thousands of acres of boreal forest landscape would be a huge step backward in greenhouse gas reduction. 

Moreover, the Superior National Forest land that Twin Metals seeks to despoil is not just any boreal forest. Scientific modeling by two major conservation organizations — The Nature Conservancy and The Wilderness Society — identifies the Quetico-Superior region, including the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and its watershed in the Superior National Forest, as some of the most important land in North America to help ward off the worst of the climate crisis.

This land is vital not only because of its function as a carbon sink, but also because it contains linked wildlife habitat and migration corridors of incalculable value.  

If we want to have a world that is survivable for humans and our fellow creatures, we must soundly reject the kind of thinking exemplified by the Center of the American Experiment’s deadly embrace of coal-generated power and environmental destruction. 

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Becky Rom
Becky Rom

Becky Rom, an Ely resident, is the national chair of the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters.

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