Survey says Minnesotans support strong mining protections

A recent public opinion poll has provided fresh insights into how Minnesotans feel about the proposed PolyMet copper-nickel mine. While support is generally divided, specific concerns about the proposals are shared widely.

In the State of the Environment 2021 MN survey conducted last month by Public Opinion Polling on behalf of the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, respondents answered several questions about the issue. The group says that the poll represents the first time in several years that a scientific survey has been conducted that asked Minnesotans for their views on copper-nickel mine proposals.

Overall, public support for the PolyMet proposal is split almost evenly, with 36 percent supporting the project, 33 percent opposing, and 31 percent unsure.

But, when specific issues with the proposal were raised, most Minnesotans opposed aspects like perpetual water treatment, ownership by a Swiss firm with a track record of corruption, and the tailings basin design that has been banned in other countries.

Also cited in the survey, 51 percent of Minnesotans said the state should quit trying to permit PolyMet and pursue different economic development strategies in the northeastern part of the state.

Question: “A few years ago, new mining was prohibited in an area around the Grand Canyon to protect its waters from pollution. Some people say that mining should be prohibited in areas where polluted runoff could enter the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. Do you agree or disagree with that statement?”

On the Twin Metals proposal, which would be in the watershed of the Boundary Waters, there appears to be widespread support for policies to protect the wilderness from pollution. 34 percent of survey participants support the mine proposal, 35 percent oppose, and 31 percent are not sure.

But, a significant majority support broad policies to protect the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness from pollution.

61 percent of respondents said they agree mining should be prohibited where pollution could flow downstream into the Boundary Waters.

There was also widespread support for enacting policies that would require mining companies to prove they can mine without pollution before receiving permits.

Question: “Legislation called “Prove it First” has been introduced in Minnesota requiring independent scientific proof that a copper-nickel mine has operated elsewhere in the US for at least 10 years without causing pollution and that the mine has been closed for at least ten years without causing pollution before allowing such a mine in Minnesota. Do you support or oppose this legislation?”

Under a “Prove it First” law, the companies would have to provide an example of a similar mine elsewhere that has operated and closed without causing contamination.

The poll also asked basic political and demographic information. It was fairly representative of the vote for president in 2020, with 44 percent saying they voted for Donald Trump, and 51 percent voting for Joe Biden. Respondents were 51 percent female and 45 percent male, and 86 percent white and 14 percent another race.

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