Thursday, November 21, 2013

Mining my own business

Rebecca Otto, Minnesota's State Auditor, has what I think is a wonderful opinion piece in today's Star Tribune, explaining her "No" vote on sulfide mining leases. The Minnesota Executive Council recently approved 31 nonferrous leases. Go read the whole article, we'll be here when you get back.  
Finished, good. Thanks for coming back. There's a long list of environmental organizations with long, long lists of complaints and concerns about sulfide mining: Friends of the Boundary Waters, National Wildlife Federation, and the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy among others. What troubles me even more deeply, however, is the September 26, 2013 report from Minnesota Public Radio that "A Majority of Minnesotans are Unaware of the Proposed Mining Projects." I know we all lead busy lives. Some of us have even started to minimize our reliance on "mainstream media" in the U.S. because they often fail to report on stories that concern us. We do need to be aware of potential threats to our local treasures though, don't we? Road cuts through rock are tough enough to deal with. How many of our lakes and streams don't meet water quality standards now? How well have we done protecting the groundwater that supports White Bear Lake? Is it only about jobs?

Jobs are important. I'm not arguing against jobs. Mining jobs no doubt pay more than the service jobs associated with tourism. But, how many mining jobs, for how long, will be needed to compensate for lost jobs if tourists start avoiding northern Minnesota because is has become the environmental disaster that many fear? How many of the good paying jobs will go to folks already living in the area? I wonder if the Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement will take a look at the net economic gains or if we'll have to raise that concern as part of the public comment process? 
I'm not against mining. This is being typed on a computer with lots of metal and rare earth metal used to produce it. I am against subsidizing corporate profits through inadequate social and environmental safeguards being applied to risky ventures. (I'm also not in favor of massive public subsidies for NFL team owners, but that's another post.)  I'm particularly against the public having to assume any anticipated environmental costs over a 500 year period, when "The average life expectancy of a multinational corporation-Fortune 500 or its equivalent-is between 40 and 50 years." This all brings back the dismay I experienced when the U.S. approved NAFTA with what seemed to me and some others to be grossly inadequate social and environmental safeguards. I find it enough of a challenge dealing with the impact of a democratically elected government on my life and environment. As corporations (persons according to the Supreme Court) become the electors of our government, my concerns become elevated. How about yours? What kind of Minnesota do you want to live in? Richard Hugo gives us food for thought with this poem about life after the mines have closed.

Degrees of Gray in Philipsburg

By Richard Hugo 
You might come here Sunday on a whim.   
Say your life broke down. The last good kiss   
you had was years ago. You walk these streets   
laid out by the insane, past hotels   
that didn’t last, bars that did, the tortured try   
of local drivers to accelerate their lives.   
Only churches are kept up. The jail   
turned 70 this year. The only prisoner   
is always in, not knowing what he’s done.

The principal supporting business now   
is rage. Hatred of the various grays   
the mountain sends, hatred of the mill,   
The Silver Bill repeal, the best liked girls   
who leave each year for Butte. One good   
restaurant and bars can’t wipe the boredom out.   
The 1907 boom, eight going silver mines,   
a dance floor built on springs—
all memory resolves itself in gaze,
in panoramic green you know the cattle eat   
or two stacks high above the town,   
two dead kilns, the huge mill in collapse   
for fifty years that won’t fall finally down.

Isn’t this your life? That ancient kiss
still burning out your eyes? Isn’t this defeat
so accurate, the church bell simply seems
a pure announcement: ring and no one comes?   
Don’t empty houses ring? Are magnesium   
and scorn sufficient to support a town,   
not just Philipsburg, but towns
of towering blondes, good jazz and booze   
the world will never let you have
until the town you came from dies inside?

Say no to yourself. The old man, twenty   
when the jail was built, still laughs   
although his lips collapse. Someday soon,   
he says, I’ll go to sleep and not wake up.   
You tell him no. You’re talking to yourself.   
The car that brought you here still runs.   
The money you buy lunch with,
no matter where it’s mined, is silver   
and the girl who serves your food
is slender and her red hair lights the wall.

Thanks for listening. Come again when you can. Rants, raves and reflections served here daily. (Thank you, Rebecca!)