Saturday, November 30, 2013

Alternatives to mine

Did you enjoy Thanksgiving and/or Hanukkah? Was it peaceful, hectic, some of each? The upcoming holidays will probably bring more of the same. Here at My Minnesota, we've held off on a rant or two because of the holiday season. But, there's a deadline coming up that we want to be sure you know about. On December 6, 2013, a state environmental impact statement on the proposed Polymet Northmet project in northeast Minnesota is to be released for a 90 day public comment period.

A November 27 Star Tribune article by Josephine Marcotty notes a recent mining industry analyst's report that the size of the operation could be expected to be more than doubled in the near future. That same article quotes the DNR communications director as saying "the agency can review only the project that’s been presented by the company.

“If the company seeks to expand its processing, that expansion will be subject to additional environmental review,” he said.

northeast Minnesota
northeast Minnesota            © harrington

In my opinion, that's not exactly the whole story. Here's a link to Minnesota's rules on EIS CONTENT. Now I'm not a lawyer, but I have been involved with a few contentious EISs. In light of what I see as pretty clear language on alternatives to be included, I'm at a loss to understand how the project ended up with the following final scoping decision.

"2.6 SCALE OR MAGNITUDE ALTERNATIVES The DNR and USACE will not evaluate an alternative scale or magnitude for the project. Although there may be environmental benefits from smaller amounts of mine waste associated with a smaller scale project, the cost of operating a smaller mine and ore processing facility for the diffuse ore body will adversely impact the feasibility of the project. As part of project development, the proposer evaluated various mill feed rates to estimate the economic feasibility of the project. The 32,000 tons per day (tpd) scale currently proposed was ultimately selected, however an 18,000 tpd scale was evaluated as part of the optimization process. During this analysis it was determined that the return on investment for an 18,000 tpd operation was not feasible. There is some smaller variability associated with the 32,000 tpd scale that would still be economically feasible, but the environmental benefits associated with this smaller degree of variability would not produce significant environmental benefits. The DNR and the USACE have determined that an alternative scale or magnitude would not feasibly meet the purpose of the project."

northeast Minnesota
northeast Minnesota         © harrington

Several commenters on the Scoping Document pointed out a need for "An alternative addressing additional sites, technologies and magnitude or scale of the project needs to included in the EIS." In my opinion, the Scoping Decision doesn't appear adequately responsive to those comments. Furthermore, determining that a smaller facility isn't (economically) feasible doesn't address, as near as I can figure out, the feasibility of a larger facility "where the real value is." The fact that the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy was one of the organizations that is reported to have made such comments, and is now expressing concern about the industry analyst's report described in the Star Tribune / Marcotty November 7 story, would make me very nervous if I were the individual at Polymet responsible for the success of permitting.

Try to track this as it plays out, and, if you're in a position to offer support to MCEA, the Sierra Club or others concerned about what's ultimately right for Minnesota's social, economic, and natural environment, offer support, good wishes, and maybe even a Christmas contribution so they can do a thorough job reviewing the draft EIS.

Should be an interesting holiday season for some folks. Philip Levine offers a a perspective on why this is so important.

Our Valley

By Philip Levin 
We don't see the ocean, not ever, but in July and August
when the worst heat seems to rise from the hard clay   
of this valley, you could be walking through a fig orchard
when suddenly the wind cools and for a moment   
you get a whiff of salt, and in that moment you can almost
believe something is waiting beyond the Pacheco Pass,
something massive, irrational, and so powerful even
the mountains that rise east of here have no word for it.

You probably think I'm nuts saying the mountains   
have no word for ocean, but if you live here   
you begin to believe they know everything.   
They maintain that huge silence we think of as divine,
a silence that grows in autumn when snow falls
slowly between the pines and the wind dies
to less than a whisper and you can barely catch
your breath because you're thrilled and terrified.

You have to remember this isn't your land.   
It belongs to no one, like the sea you once lived beside
and thought was yours. Remember the small boats   
that bobbed out as the waves rode in, and the men   
who carved a living from it only to find themselves   
carved down to nothing. Now you say this is home,   
so go ahead, worship the mountains as they dissolve in dust,   
wait on the wind, catch a scent of salt, call it our life.