Copyright Ken Avidor 2013
by Steve Timmer
Jan 21, 2016, 1:00 PM

When a mining company shuffles off its mortal coil

Who is left behind to mourn?

Here’s the lede from from a story in the International Business Times about yet another coal company bankruptcy:

The gloomier outlook for U.S. coal companies is raising questions about who will pay to clean up shuttered strip mines and open pits across coal country. With financial woes piling up for coal producers, environmental groups are warning that taxpayers could be on the hook for millions in restoration costs if mining companies can’t pick up the bill.

Arch Coal Inc. this week became the latest U.S. coal operator to seek Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in a bid to cut its long-term debt by more than $4.5 billion. Plunging coal prices, sluggish demand and competition from cheaper natural gas are eroding revenues across the industry. The filing Monday arrives after Walter Energy, Patriot Coal and another large producer, Alpha Natural Resources, filed for bankruptcy last year.

Substitute “copper nickel sulfide mines” for “coal mines” and it’s still a perfect fit. Demand for copper is also “sluggish;” the price of copper fell below $2.00/pound recently. You could get a copper quarter pounder at Mickey D’s for less than one made of beef. You could get one made of steel for even less.

Just think, Superman, the “man of steel,” would fetch, say, $120 on the market, if you melted him down for scrap (assuming he weighed about 200 pounds). Sad, really.

But that’s reality, friends.

The question remains: who is going to clean all this stuff up?

Cast your vote — into the abyss — now, if you think it’s the mining companies.

And cast another vote into the abyss if you think that state regulators in Minnesota will make sure that the mining companies keep things clean.

They don’t now for the iron mines.

From a recent article in the Strib:

The federal Environmental Protection Agency has agreed to investigate allegations by an environmental advocacy group that a state agency is failing to meet its responsibility to regulate iron mining companies, the advocacy group said.

The environmental group WaterLegacy filed the petition with the EPA in July, saying the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency failed to meet the responsibilities that the EPA has delegated to it for enforcing the Clean Water Act when it comes to iron mining companies. The EPA recently sent WaterLegacy attorney Paula Maccabee and MPCA Assistant Commissioner Rebecca Flood a draft protocol for its investigation. The EPA has also started a web page for documents pertaining to the investigation.

If PolyMet Mining gets a permit, and the negotiations over adequate assurances are taken behind closed doors, we’ll be engaging in a long, continuous retreat from clean water, in the St. Louis watershed and the Boundary Waters, too.

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