Friday, January 31, 2014

Iron Range Alchemy, Iron to Copper?

There was no posting yesterday. One of the bugs floating around Minnesota this Winter got me good. If I were always in the shape I was in yesterday, I don't know how long I'd be sustainable.

Today, I'd like to call your attention to information on two other web sites. First, the Brainerd Dispatch, discovered via MPR on Twitter, has what I think is some of the best coverage I've read so far on the PolyMet project issues. If you care about a sustainable future for Minnesota, I'd suggest you read it. It summarizes a Wednesday night panel discussion about copper nickel mining and whether we can do it without trashing our environment. Go read it for yourself. We'll wait, because we're (editorial, not royal) increasingly frustrated that too much of our media coverage these days seems focused primarily on confrontation and conflict and presenting two sides to every issue without vetting the credentials of both sides. We deserve better and when I find it I want to call attention to it.

The other item worth taking a look at is a very information background piece from the Minnesota Alliance for Geographic Education on the history of the Iron Range and the IRRRB and the continuing (and growing?) need to diversify northern Minnesota's economy. Finally, for today, Joyce Sutphen, our current poet laureate, notes another one of iron's qualities.

Evening Angelus

By Joyce Sutphen 

I have forgotten the words,
and therefore I shall not conceive
of a mysterious salvation, I shall
not become a tall lily and bloom
into blue and white. Then what
oracular event shall appear on
my doorstep? What announcement
shall crowd me to a corner,
protesting an unworthiness,
which doubtless shall be believed?

But these are only bells we hear,
pulled down by the arms of the
drunken janitor, two fingers missing
on his left hand. And we have
climbed into that tower, its spiraling
wooden staircase creaking beneath our
feet. We have seen for ourselves
that it is only iron that rings, iron
swinging on an iron bar, the rough rope
threading down to the cold ground,
no death or holiness in
those hollow shells.

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Wednesday, January 29, 2014

RE: assured?

Today brings double digits above zero. Sometimes, in January, in Minnesota, life is (temporarily) good.

Lake Superior north shore
Lake Superior north shore       © harrington

Last night's PolyMet public meeting / hearing went about as I expected it to, although attendance was substantially more than I would have guessed. I continue to be disappointed at the "I support mining" versus "I support the environment" tone of the debate. Don't get me wrong. I'm not accepting at face value PolyMet assertions that "... it will offer financial guarantees to clean up and treat water for as long as necessary after the company is done mining...." I do believe it may be possible to structure legally binding long-term requirements (that would have to "run with the land" as my friends in real estate say). If a number of corporations didn't already have a track record of bailing out of retirement benefits and health plans through bankruptcy, I might be more willing to cut the corporations involved some slack.

Lake Superior north shore
Lake Superior north shore    © harrington

On the other hand, it's only been 237 or 238 years since we became a country. Five hundred years ago was 1514. Columbus had barely discovered North American by then (although I believe quite a number of Native Americans knew where Turtle Island was in 1514). Why should we have concerns about uncertainty regarding the actual need for long term treatment? One of the few things former President Reagan ever said with which I agree was "Trust, but verify." I remain extremely concerned at the lack of details in the SEIS about financial assurances, particularly since EPA, in their comments on the 2009 DEIS said "Long term post-closure treatment will be necessary to protect water quality; therefore, EPA believes financial assurance information should have been included in the DEIS." The level of broad-based public scrutiny that the SEIS is receiving is unlikely, I fear, to be focused on the initial permits or their reissuance. Since long-term treatment wouldn't be required during the period of the first permit, maybe it wouldn't have to be addressed then, or the next or... if each discharge permit runs for 5 years, it would be 35 years or so before the long term financial assurances would have to be addressed. I hope that's not the strategy, but what's to prevent it? These are just some of the legitimate, in my opinion, concerns raised by the approach followed by PolyMet and our regulatory agencies, based on the way they've developed this SEIS. Sir Thomas Wyatt writes of the uncertainty which we must address.

Is it Possible

By Sir Thomas Wyatt 

Is it possible
That so high debate,
So sharp, so sore, and of such rate,
Should end so soon and was begun so late?
Is it possible?

Is it possible
So cruel intent,
So hasty heat and so soon spent,
From love to hate, and thence for to relent?
Is it possible?

Is it possible
That any may find
Within one heart so diverse mind,
To change or turn as weather and wind?
Is it possible?

Is it possible
To spy it in an eye
That turns as oft as chance on die,
The truth whereof can any try?
Is it possible?

It is possible
For to turn so oft,
To bring that lowest which was most aloft,
And to fall highest yet to light soft:
It is possible.

All is possible
Whoso list believe.
Trust therefore first, and after preve,
As men wed ladies by licence and leave.
All is possible.


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Tuesday, January 28, 2014

When is an impact not an impact?

Let's start today with a moment of silence in memory of Pete Seeger, one of my long-time heroes. (Congress found him in contempt back in the mid-1950s McCarthy era. If they just looked around these days, Congress would find a lot more of us in contempt, I think.)           Thanks for your understanding.

Now, do you think we've turned the corner? Is today the end of it? I checked this morning and it's slightly more than 50 days until this year's Vernal Equinox. Meteorological Spring starts in a little more than a month (although that may be pushing it in Minnesota). When I walked SiSi early this morning the local temperature was minus 19. As this is being written, we're all the way up to -3! But many of you know all this already. I wonder if the super cold and the black ice will keep hardy Minnesotans from tonight's PolyMet public meeting in St. Paul. I hope not. 
MPR has a very helpful story on water quality issues. Here's one quote from it. "So why not estimate how long water treatment would be needed? PolyMet officials said it's very uncertain, and they say they won't know enough about potential contaminants until they begin unearthing them and monitoring their impact."

Lake Superior cove
worth protecting? yes       © harrington

If I've been tracking this correctly, we're being told that the SEIS/DEIS didn't evaluate how long water pollution treatment may actually be needed, the financial assurance details won't be addressed until permit issuance time (but, presumably, there won't be any "unearthing them and monitoring their impact" by the time the permits are issued). I'm sensing more and more pigs in pokes with this Environmental Impact Statement and the rest of the process. After skimming the water quality section and, unfortunately, the way the analyses are described, I believe it's really challenging to find a straightforward, unqualified statement about whether the project is expected to meet water quality standards or not. In part, this is due to the existing water quality impact from the previous mining activity and tailing basin. In particular, though, I think I read that for some waters that aren't supposed to have an increase in sulfate loadings, there may be some increase, but much of it's couched in terms of probability. I don't recall discharge permits being written in terms at all like allowing for a 10% violation of permit conditions, but maybe things have changed since I was involved in NPDES permit issuances. This gets more and more interesting the more I learn about how the EIS is addressing water quality. I haven't yet gone looking for the Scoping Decision, but I'm curious to see how the SEIS compares to that document. I'm sure one or more of the lawyers looking at this from the environmental perspective has already done that. These are more of the reasons that I have concerns about our current environmental protection processes and whether we can create jobs and protect the environment with the tools we're using. I wonder if Michael Robbins was reading a Supplemental EIS before writing this poem.

Lake Superior shore
worth protecting? yes     © harrington

Sweet Virginia

By Michael Robbins 

I got a letter from the government.
It said let there be night.
I went through your trash.
There was night, all right.
I consider how your light is spent.

I have butterflies a little bit.
I have some pills I take for it.
I’ve been up since four the day before.
Agony’s a cinch to sham.

Don’t worry about the environment.
Let it kill us if  it can.
I give a tiny tinker’s damn.
I put the ox behind the cart.
Consume away my snow-blind heart.

Fastened to a service animal
it is waiting for the beep.
It is waiting for the right to change.
Hello, I know you’re there, pick up.

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Monday, January 27, 2014

Just trust us!

What are you doing tomorrow night? Will you be at the last public hearing for the (current version) of the PolyMet / NorthMet SEIS? Today's Star Tribune has a commentary in favor of proceeding with the project, written by the usual suspects, the Minnesota Building and Construction Trades Council and the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce. The authors argue that "We trust the multiple state and federal agencies that have been involved in developing this document. We trust the DNR to read and listen to all public comments and to remain transparent throughout this process. We are confident in our state’s ability to pursue new opportunities in an industry — mining — that we have worked in for more than a century. It is time to let these projects move forward."

northern Minnesota tamaracks
northern Minnesota tamaracks    © harrington

I'm fascinated to see their reference to the DNR "remaining transparent," especially since the United States is not yet signatory to the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative. If you're concerned about both jobs and the environment, you might want to follow the link above and see what the EITI is all about. It involves government, industry and civil society in an oversight process. If you want an executive summary, here's a link to a four page fact sheet, perhaps it will suggest some comments if you go tomorrow night. The reason I mention EITI is that I believe that the contentiousness of the mining/jobs issue isn't about technology, it's about trust. Extractive industries such as mining (remember Reserve Mining) have a long record of creating problems and opposing most environmental regulations. 
Most, I suspect all but haven't checked, corporations involved in the extractive industries, have a fiduciary (legal) obligation to maximize shareholder value or, as we measure that in this country, short term profitability. Think about BP and the Deepwater Horizon, or the current question of whether the water in West Virginia's capital is safe to drink. A claim of proprietary trade secret for a second chemical leaking into the Elk River sure doesn't seem very transparent to me, nor does it seem to me to be the kind of response likely to instill confidence in the governmental framework within which many extractive industries work. We're not only interested in jobs and protecting Minnesota's natural environment, we're also interested in protecting Minnesota's citizens' health. Transparency goes a long way to helping to ensure all three of the outcomes we want.

Today's MinnPost has two stories that might seem unrelated. I don't think they are. One is by Rolf Westgard, who claims that "Well-regulated sulfide mining can be done effectively." He concludes "Many NorthMet Project opponents raise the question of whether the mining companies can be trusted to safeguard Minnesota’s environment. A better question could be: 'Can we regulate them?' I suggest that we can." I agree with Mr. Westgard that we can regulate them. I question whether we have the political will and adequate resources and the appropriate framework to regulate them. Here's why.

Lake Superior
Lake Superior                   © harrington

How many tank cars hauling North Dakota oil or tar sands from Canada have been involved in recent "Incidents?" Will we finally follow recommendations for improved tank car safety? Do federal, state and local taxes pay for enough government personnel to look for oil spills along the Louisiana coast or do we have to rely on volunteers? These are only some of the instances in which it would seem that, as a society, we fail to do what we can do because it might cost too much, be politically unpopular, make us "uncompetitive" or we have other priorities, plus it's not in our back yard.

This all brings me to the second MinnPost story today, this one about Kent Nerburn's latest book. Toward the end of a well written interview with Nerburn, Amy Goetzman quotes him as saying"...I do want to help get the message out about these people [Native Americans], what they have been through, and what they have to teach us, especially about the land. The idea of a spiritual quality in the land is something we need to accept and embrace, or we’re all going to end up in a very bad place.” Can we mine copper and nickel in northern Minnesota and still protect the spiritual quality of the land, that's what I think those concerned with the PolyMet NorthMet project impacts are trying to ask. I don't think any of us want to see our environment or our citizens end up in "a very bad place." I'd like to feel the way Thomas R. Smith captures. I can't, just yet, at least about extractive industries or government. I need transparency to ...

Trust

By Thomas R. Smith 

It’s like so many other things in life   
to which you must say no or yes.                                    
So you take your car to the new mechanic.   
Sometimes the best thing to do is trust.   

The package left with the disreputable-looking   
clerk, the check gulped by the night deposit,   
the envelope passed by dozens of strangers—   
all show up at their intended destinations.   

The theft that could have happened doesn’t.   
Wind finally gets where it was going   
through the snowy trees, and the river, even               
when frozen, arrives at the right place.                        

And sometimes you sense how faithfully your life   
is delivered, even though you can’t read the address.

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Sunday, January 26, 2014

Leading indicators (of Spring)

You already know the bad news, we're getting hit with another Arctic blast of very low temperatures and high winds. Here's some good news: Spring is coming.  Earlier today, I checked several of the phenology books in my library. Jim Gilbert's Nature Notebook mentions January 22 as the first time (in 1978) he'd heard cardinals whistling "what-cheer, cheer, cheer," a sure sign of Spring, according to Jim. Larry Weber's Backyard Almanac notes that late January is when red foxes are mating. Pups will be born in late March. Great Horned Owls are also nesting at this time of year. As inexorably as death and taxes, Spring is coming, hard as that may be to believe during the last week of January 2014. For what it's worth, poets like Margaret Atwood clearly join us in our struggle with this time of year.

purple finch and male cardinal in white pine
purple finch (top), male cardinal (bottom)   © harrington

February

By Margaret Atwood
Winter. Time to eat fat
and watch hockey. In the pewter mornings, the cat,   
a black fur sausage with yellow
Houdini eyes, jumps up on the bed and tries   
to get onto my head. It’s his
way of telling whether or not I’m dead.
If I’m not, he wants to be scratched; if I am   
He’ll think of something. He settles
on my chest, breathing his breath
of burped-up meat and musty sofas,
purring like a washboard. Some other tomcat,   
not yet a capon, has been spraying our front door,   
declaring war. It’s all about sex and territory,   
which are what will finish us off
in the long run. Some cat owners around here   
should snip a few testicles. If we wise   
hominids were sensible, we’d do that too,   
or eat our young, like sharks.
But it’s love that does us in. Over and over   
again, He shoots, he scores! and famine
crouches in the bedsheets, ambushing the pulsing   
eiderdown, and the windchill factor hits   
thirty below, and pollution pours
out of our chimneys to keep us warm.
February, month of despair,
with a skewered heart in the centre.
I think dire thoughts, and lust for French fries   
with a splash of vinegar.
Cat, enough of your greedy whining
and your small pink bumhole.
Off my face! You’re the life principle,
more or less, so get going
on a little optimism around here.
Get rid of death. Celebrate increase. Make it be spring.

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Saturday, January 25, 2014

Sustainable mining? Minnesota?

This morning I headed in to St. Paul. While there, I learned they still havn't caught on to using sand and salt to keep their streets, and particularly their intersections, from icing. Icy intersections where vehicles and pedestrians share space are bad news. All things considered, I prefer my snow-packed township roads, at least until March when the snow pack turns to ice pack and then mud pack.

snow packed country road
snow packed country road    © harrington

While poking about the internet today, trying to learn about mining and sustainability, I came across this piece on MinnPost, about the "1913 Massacre," published last summer. The author, Louis V. Galdieri, raises points similar to many previously noted in My Minnesota. I also found, a couple of days ago, a fascinating paper by Abbi Buxton, International Institute for Environment and Development, titled "MMSD [Mining, Minerals and Sustainable Development] + 10, Reflecting on a decade of mining and sustainable development." I'm glad that there's evidence at least some folks don't think mining and sustainability are completely incompatible. One of the key findings in the report is that:
A set of global rules for best practice on sustainable development and minerals has emerged, although difficulties in translating these at the ground level (both in terms of reporting and implementation) and ensuring consequences for non-compliance (or compliance) remain.
This seems to me to be pretty consistent with the gist of the debate going on between the "We support mining" and the "We protect the environment" folks. The PolyMet project, and other mining projects in the Lake Superior basin and elsewhere, are generating increasingly intense conversations about the risk / reward ratio of such projects and how those risks and rewards are distributed. Does the PolyMet project contribute to any sort of a transition to a more sustainable economy on the Iron Range? Is there any talk about a "Community Benefits Agreement" (or equivalent). What is the legacy, other than pollution and broken rocks, that PolyMet promises? I've been unable to find any PolyMet Corporate Social Responsibility report. Glencore, now (May 2013) Glencore Xstrata, has the following on Xstrata's web site "We recognise that we have a responsibility to maximise returns to shareholders. However, this must be achieved in tandem with an understanding of the role we play in society. What matters is that we continue to invest in the communities in which we operate to create shared value for everyone." [emphasis added] One way I might be convinced that PolyMet and NorthMet aren't "shucking and jiving" us would be if the project were being developed by a Minnesota based "B corp." Here's another quote from MMSD + 10 that helps support my cynicism.
"Community development remains a complicated field in both rhetoric and implementation, although there is evidence of progress and more sophisticated approaches to tackling these issues."

Evidence of progress, to me, is far from equivalent to documented progress. The mining industry, like so many other extractive industries, appears to be more interested in "maximum returns to shareholders." All else is largely window dressing as far as I can tell, based on the record I've seen so far. I truly wish it were otherwise. Are there any exemplary leaders in the mining industry? Is PolyMet one of them? Howard Nemerov's poem seems relevant to today's posting in more ways than one.

Money

By Howard Nemerov 
    an introductory lecture 
This morning we shall spend a few minutes   
Upon the study of symbolism, which is basic   
To the nature of money. I show you this nickel.   
Icons and cryptograms are written all over
The nickel: one side shows a hunchbacked bison   
Bending his head and curling his tail to accommodate   
The circular nature of money. Over him arches
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, and, squinched in   
Between that and his rump, E PLURIBUS UNUM,
A Roman reminiscence that appears to mean   
An indeterminately large number of things   
All of which are the same. Under the bison
A straight line giving him a ground to stand on   
Reads FIVE CENTS. And on the other side of our nickel   
There is the profile of a man with long hair   
And a couple of feathers in the hair; we know   
Somehow that he is an American Indian, and   
He wears the number nineteen-thirty-six.
Right in front of his eyes the word LIBERTY, bent   
To conform with the curve of the rim, appears   
To be falling out of the sky Y first; the Indian   
Keeps his eyes downcast and does not notice this;   
To notice it, indeed, would be shortsighted of him.   
So much for the iconography of one of our nickels,   
Which is now becoming a rarity and something of   
A collectors’ item: for as a matter of fact
There is almost nothing you can buy with a nickel,   
The representative American Indian was destroyed   
A hundred years or so ago, and his descendants’   
Relations with liberty are maintained with reservations,   
Or primitive concentration camps; while the bison,   
Except for a few examples kept in cages,
Is now extinct. Something like that, I think,
Is what Keats must have meant in his celebrated   
Ode on a Grecian Urn.
                               Notice, in conclusion,
A number of circumstances sometimes overlooked   
Even by experts: (a) Indian and bison,
Confined to obverse and reverse of the coin,   
Can never see each other; (b) they are looking   
In opposite directions, the bison past
The Indian’s feathers, the Indian past
The bison’s tail; (c) they are upside down
To one another; (d) the bison has a human face   
Somewhat resembling that of Jupiter Ammon.
I hope that our studies today will have shown you   
Something of the import of symbolism
With respect to the understanding of what is symbolized.

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Friday, January 24, 2014

Icicles, Upcycles

Well, with today's milder temperatures, we decided to try some of the throwable "roof melt" salt tablets. (I don't want to melt the roof, just the ice dam at the edge.) I'm hoping this will be the year we end up doing what I think will be a standing seam metal roof, with additional insulation under it, as a major next step toward energy conservation and reduced danger from grass and forest fires. The way our house was built, we ended up with a vaulted ceiling instead of an attic. Makes for a nice aesthetic, but when it comes to adding insulation, not so nice. After all the years that people have been building houses in Minnesota, I would have thought we'd be more on top of snow-free roofs by now. We have an awful lot of houses that need energy retrofits. The neighbors down the road may not be among those needing a retrofit but I'm going to watch for icicles at their roofline as our freeze-thaw season gets underway.

Neighbor's snow covered roof
 Neighbor's snow covered roof     © harrington

I mentioned that last weekend we got some old barn lumber for making bookshelves. Today we got some angle iron to use as a frame for the shelves. The daughter person'd fiancee is doing all the work. He's almost finished one bookcase made from 2" by 10" fir joists. That's for books owned by he and the daughter person. For me, we're going with the angle iron and 1" by 11"+ elm roofing lumber. Pictures will be forthcoming soon. We're doing our little part to "upcycle" reclaimed lumber. Bill McDonough would be so proud. If this all actually works and looks good, I'll be amazingly pleased. Joyce Sutphen captures the mystery of old barns turning into new lives with this.

The Shop


There was a window
filtering the sunlight,
dusty as it came,

and boxes of nails,
long and dark,
tin-colored and squat,

boxes of silver bolts,
washers and screws,
tacks, inch-long staples.

The vice that could crush
a finger hung open jawed
on the edge of the workbench;

the welding mask tilted
its flat and mouthless face
towards the rafters.

The old harnesses hung
in the back corner, their
work-lathered leather

soft as the reins of memory,
guiding him through the tangle
of one year into another.  


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Thursday, January 23, 2014

Northern Minnesota Legacy?

Holding aside the ridiculously cold weather, this week continues to deliver pleasant surprises. One of my favorite authors, Scott Russell Sanders (who very kindly signed my copy of one of his books when we met at the Nature and Environmental Writing Conference pit on by The Loft Literary Center in September 2012) has a new book, a novel by the title of Divine Animal [A story of healing, for the grandchildren], that's just been published. He's made the ebook version available for free. While Scott and I share a preference for books printed on paper, I want to see what he has to say "right now" so I've added an ebook reader to my laptop and am through the first chapter. Thank you, Scott, for your wisdom and generosity. He's one of several very talented souls from Indiana that my better half and I know, respect and enjoy. Others include Krista Detor (Flat Earth Diary) and Carrie Newcomber.

Audubon Northwoods, writing conference locale
Audubon Northwoods, writing conference locale   © harrington
Another recent find is a free, downloadable, version of Sustainability: A Comprehensive Foundation text book. I was looking through that this morning, particularly the section on mining and sustainability. (You can guess why.) According to the table on page 233 of the PDF, world reserves of Copper are estimated to be 39 years and Nickel isn't much better at 49 years, assuming today's economic viability. The book also mentions the way we've been substituting things like glass fiber for copper. I wonder what the implications of such economics and substitutions might be for the longer term economic viability of international mining companies. What kind of world do we want to leave our children? What kind of legacy do we want to leave? Is a 20 to 40 year resource life the way to a sustainable Iron Range for Minnesota's families, those living there now and their children? Is a two generation horizon good enough for them (and us) in the 21st century when the Iroquois focused out seven generations? Just askin!

To return to where we started today, John Crowe Ransom appears to have been familiar with weather like ours.

Winter Remembered

By John Crowe Ransom 

Two evils, monstrous either one apart,
Possessed me, and were long and loath at going:   
A cry of Absence, Absence, in the heart,   
And in the wood the furious winter blowing.

Think not, when fire was bright upon my bricks,   
And past the tight boards hardly a wind could enter,   
I glowed like them, the simple burning sticks,   
Far from my cause, my proper heat and center.

Better to walk forth in the frozen air
And wash my wound in the snows; that would be healing;   
Because my heart would throb less painful there,   
Being caked with cold, and past the smart of feeling.

And where I walked, the murderous winter blast   
Would have this body bowed, these eyeballs streaming,   
And though I think this heart’s blood froze not fast   
It ran too small to spare one drop for dreaming.

Dear love, these fingers that had known your touch,   
And tied our separate forces first together,
Were ten poor idiot fingers not worth much,   
Ten frozen parsnips hanging in the weather.

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Thanks for visiting. Come again when you can. Be kind to each other while you can.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

What's Sustainable?

The question raised here the other day, about what would a sustainable Iron Range look like and work like, should, I think, become the basis for a widespread and wide ranging conversation about what kind of a Minnesota we want. Unlike Las Vegas, what happens on the Range doesn't stay on the Range. Extracted materials are shipped elsewhere to have additional value added. Pollution heads down wind or down stream. More jobs mean more people (unless there's a prior agreement that all new jobs will be filled by current residents of the Range, an unlikely scenario). We could consider the following as conditions of a sustainable society. (Let's note that we don't have a good way to get at the status of these conditions using our current process.)

The Natural Step: System Conditions


As I understand it, our current process generally works this way (oversimplified):
  1. An entity proposes an action with the potential for a significant environmental impact.
  2. The Responsible Governmental  Unit does an Environmental Assessment and either completes a worksheet (EAW) or scopes an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).
  3.  The EAW or the EIS identify environmental impacts that require mitigation and what those mitigation measures would be.
  4. The permitting process incorporates the appropriate mitigation measure(s) in the permits issued OR there is a determination that adequate mitigation measures aren't available.
  5. The project proceeds as permitted or sits on "hold" until mitigation is possible. 
At no point in our current processes do we really get to ask the questions: "Is this a good idea?" "Does this contribute to the kind of community and state that we want?" We're left arguing over semantic absurdities such as whether 500 years is the legal or functional equivalent of perpetual. We need to find much improved ways to deal with the increasingly vexing questions we can expect to be faced with in the future. I doubt we'll like the results if we continue to be overly reliant on legalistic and regulatory processes. As a society, we won't even accept findings supported by 97%+ of the scientific community. If we really expect to live in a Minnesota where all the children are above average, we need to change our ways. One definition of insanity is "doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." (Einstein?) If we continue to stick our heads in the sand about what kind of future we want, I think we'll leave our posteriors more exposed than we should. Here's an example of a "new and improved" approach we could try, to show we care about the future and the children.

The Natural Step: Backcasting

The Children

By Mark Jarman 
The children are hiding among the raspberry canes.
They look big to one another, the garden small.   
Already in their mouths this soft fruit   
That lasts so briefly in the supermarket   
Tastes like the past. The gritty wall,   
Behind the veil of leaves, is hollow.
There are yellow wasps inside it. The children know.   
They know the wall is hard, although it hums.
They know a lot and will not forget it soon.

When did we forget? But we were never   
Children, never found where they were hiding
And hid with them, never followed   
The wasp down into its nest
With a fingertip that still tingles.
We lie in bed at night, thinking about
The future, always the future, always forgetting
That it will be the past, hard and hollow,   
Veiled and humming, soon enough. 

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Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Winter potpourri

I don't want to jinx myself, but so far this is shaping up as a pretty good week.  Yesterday, MN Blog Cabin syndicated last Friday's posting on the significance of PolyMet jobs to the economy of the Range; today I noticed Greg Seitz had news about possible wolf tracks near Osceola (which is south of where this is being written). That's exciting if true. Molly Steinwald tweeted a charming piece about children and nature and poetry and this morning I discovered some of the most wonderful and heartwarming photography I've ever seen. We're making some progress locally with the new bookshelves and I finally got around to restringing my guitar without casualties. That's almost enough good news to offset a 2 PM temperature of negative 2 degrees. Later this week it's supposed to get up to freezing and then snow (deep sigh). Keeping the feeders full is becoming a full time job.

feeder follower
feeder follower                © harrington

Driving down to Zumbrota on Saturday, I noticed that the Cannon River had a fair amount of open water where Highway 52 crosses. The smaller Zumbro River didn't. That's made me curious to go take a look at the St. Croix and see if it's open or ice covered and maybe even take some pictures. I really enjoy living where there are four seasons. I'd like it more if our weather stayed closer to our averages. Two Polar Vortices in one month is pushing me to my limits. On the other hand, by this time next month the sun will feel noticeably warm if you're sitting in your car in the sunshine (especially if your car is black). I'm still trying to adopt a "small victories" philosophy and sometimes looking ahead is the best I can do. Margaret Atwood raises a question of which country we think we're in.

The animals in that country

By Margaret Atwood 

In that country the animals   
have the faces of people:

the ceremonial
cats possessing the streets

the fox run
politely to earth, the huntsmen   
standing around him, fixed   
in their tapestry of manners

the bull, embroidered
with blood and given
an elegant death, trumpets, his name   
stamped on him, heraldic brand   
because

(when he rolled
on the sand, sword in his heart, the teeth   
in his blue mouth were human)

he is really a man

even the wolves, holding resonant   
conversations in their   
forests thickened with legend.

            In this country the animals   
            have the faces of   
            animals.

            Their eyes
            flash once in car headlights   
            and are gone.

            Their deaths are not elegant.

            They have the faces of   
            no-one.

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Thanks for visiting. Come again when you can. Be kind to each other while you can.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Do Justice for MLK!

This is the day we've chosen to honor Martin Luther King, Jr., humanitarian, American civil rights activist, Nobel Peace Prize laureate. I feel honored to be a citizen of the same country that produced Dr. King. I am embarrassed to be a citizen of a country that needed, and still needs, leaders like him to help us meet our social, economic and environmental justice obligations. The book club I'm in, the St. Croix River Valley book club for artists and art lovers, is currently reading Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, about the lives of three sharecropper families in the southern US during the mid to late 1930's. As I look at our faltering recovery from the recent "Great Recession," I get the clear sense that too many of us still lead lives as deprived as those led by the tenant farmers decades ago.


While Iron Rangers clamor for more jobs amidst an already growing local economy, many mothers and children in our cities and on our reservations are homeless or poorly housed. Too many of our waters don't meet standards needed to support human and aquatic health so we can "enjoy" cheap energy and cheap food. Thanks to climate change, our Northern Coniferous Forest is headed to Canada. The White Earth Land Recovery Project is trying to "facilitate the recovery of the original land base of the White Earth Indian Reservation..." while we are busy mining our groundwaters and plowing what's left of our prairies until both our waters and our lands dry up and are, like Dr. King, honored in their absence. Meanwhile, too many of us go to bed hungry each night. Have we made any real progress since the assassination of Dr. King, or have we settled for superficial and very, very, unequal progress? Have we learned to care for our natural and human resources while we can still enjoy them? An important lesson we can learn from leaders like Dr. King is that we are indeed all in this together and we all benefit by respecting each other and the planet we live on. Thank you Dr. King, for all you've done for all of us. With more leaders like you, and Abraham, and John, and Bobby, we may have a future you could be proud of. Thankfully, others are also calling for justice.


Justice, Come Down

By Minnie Bruce Pratt 
A huge sound waits, bound in the ice,
in the icicle roots, in the buds of snow
on fir branches, in the falling silence
of snow, glittering in the sun, brilliant
as a swarm of gnats, nothing but hovering
wings at midday. With the sun comes noise.
Tongues of ice break free, fall, shatter,
splinter, speak. If I could write the words.
Simple, like turning a page, to say Write
what happened, but this means a return
to the cold place where I am being punished.
Alone to the stony circle where I am frozen,
the empty space, children, mother, father gone,
lover gone away. There grief still sits
and waits, grim, numb, keeping company with
anger. I can smell my anger like sulfur-
struck matches. I wanted what had happened
to be a wall to burn, a window to smash.
At my fist the pieces would sparkle and fall.
All would be changed. I would not be alone.

Instead I have told my story over and over
at parties, on the edge of meetings, my life
clenched in my fist, my eyes brittle as glass.

Ashamed, people turned their faces away
from the woman ranting, asking: Justice,
stretch out your hand. Come down, glittering,
from where you have hidden yourself away. 

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Thanks for listening. Come again when you can. Be kind to each other while you can.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Stuff and nonsense

Today we're off to look at some old barn lumber to see if we want to use it to build bookshelves. The "we" in question is not editorial and certainly not regal. The daughter person's fiancee is the lead on this project. As one of this year's priorities, I'm trying to turn multiple random stacks of "recently read," "currently being read" and "to be read" books that are scattered around the house into a more coherent collection. It remains to be seen whether we are simply paving the road to hell with good intentions or if we will actually get marginally more organized through this effort.

neighbor's red barn
neighbor's red barn             © harrington

It's been some time since I've watched Annie Leonard's The Story of Stuff. I don't recall if it includes the need for stuff required to organize and hold the stuff we've accumulated. I used to limit this issue to fishing lures and flies. It has now expanded to include music CDs, books, and clothes. I hope I don't have to build a barn to store my stuff. The good news is I've actually started to use my library card instead of buying all the book club books for the St. Croix Valley book club for artists and supporters. Edgar Guest may have had me and my accumulative addictions in mind as he wrote.

On Quitting

By Edgar Albert Guest 
How much grit do you think you’ve got?
Can you quit a thing that you like a lot?
You may talk of pluck; it’s an easy word,
And where’er you go it is often heard;
But can you tell to a jot or guess
Just how much courage you now possess?

You may stand to trouble and keep your grin,
But have you tackled self-discipline?
Have you ever issued commands to you
To quit the things that you like to do,
And then, when tempted and sorely swayed,
Those rigid orders have you obeyed?

Don’t boast of your grit till you’ve tried it out,
Nor prate to men of your courage stout,
For it’s easy enough to retain a grin
In the face of a fight there’s a chance to win,
But the sort of grit that is good to own
Is the stuff you need when you’re all alone.

How much grit do you think you’ve got?
Can you turn from joys that you like a lot?
Have you ever tested yourself to know
How far with yourself your will can go?
If you want to know if you have grit,
Just pick out a joy that you like, and quit.

It’s bully sport and it’s open fight;
It will keep you busy both day and night;
For the toughest kind of a game you’ll find
Is to make your body obey your mind.
And you never will know what is meant by grit
Unless there’s something you’ve tried to quit.

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Thanks for listening. Come again when you can. Be kind to each other while you can.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Swan Song, not

I've lived in the Twin Cities area for something like 40 years now. In that time I learned about the trumpeter swan recovery that started in the Carver Park Reserve. Since I've lived mostly on the east side of the metro area, I rarely got to see the swans that lived in western Hennepin County. During the past few years, I've noticed swans on occasion along the St. Croix River. The whole family has made at least one trip to Alma to see if we could catch the migrating flocks (poor timing, no success).

St. Croix River in Summer
St. Croix River in Summer         © harrington

When I started doing research for a writing project I'm working on, I specifically searched the internet for mention of swans + St. Croix River. I was very pleasantly surprised to learn that swans winter over in several locations in the St. Croix valley, including Wild River State Park, near the Willow River's confluence with the St. Croix as well as at Hudson WI. If the rest of 2014 provides as many gratifying surprises as these first few weeks, it should be a great year. Do you think Yates is writing just about swans or about...?

The Wild Swans at Coole

By William Butler Yeats 
The trees are in their autumn beauty,
The woodland paths are dry,
Under the October twilight the water   
Mirrors a still sky;
Upon the brimming water among the stones   
Are nine-and-fifty swans.

The nineteenth autumn has come upon me   
Since I first made my count;
I saw, before I had well finished,
All suddenly mount
And scatter wheeling in great broken rings   
Upon their clamorous wings.

I have looked upon those brilliant creatures,   
And now my heart is sore.
All's changed since I, hearing at twilight,   
The first time on this shore,
The bell-beat of their wings above my head,   
Trod with a lighter tread.

Unwearied still, lover by lover,
They paddle in the cold
Companionable streams or climb the air;   
Their hearts have not grown old;
Passion or conquest, wander where they will,   
Attend upon them still.

But now they drift on the still water,   
Mysterious, beautiful;   
Among what rushes will they build,
By what lake's edge or pool
Delight men's eyes when I awake some day   
To find they have flown away?


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Thanks for listening. Come again when you can. Be kind to each other while you can.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Ponzi isn't from Happy Days

Earlier today I was skimming through the Cumulative Effects section (Chapter 6) of the PolyMet SEIS. I'm fascinated by statements found on page 100 of Chapter 6. "Construction of the above-mentioned projects would generate approximately 1,817 new jobs directly in the CEAA, 2 percent of the total existing study area employment. Given the timing of these projects, the effects are likely to be experienced across different geographies over time.

The operational phases of the cumulative actions would generate approximately 572 new jobs in the CEAA, about one percent of the area’s total current employment."

northern Minnesota rock bottom beauty
 northern Minnesota rock bottom beauty      © harrington

What I couldn't find, at least in this section, is a baseline of 20 year employment forecasts without the project. We know that employment in the mining industry has been declining for some time. We also know that "average incomes increased 30 to 40 percent over and above inflation since the collapse of metal industry jobs began in 1978. As real earnings from the iron industry fell by 65 to 75 percent in Itasca and Lake Counties, real earnings from the rest of the economy increased 65 to 75 percent." [The Economic Role of Metal Mining in Minnesota: Past, Present, and Future] So, we are faced with those who claim they support the mine because it will bring jobs and growth which seem to be happening without the NorthMet mine, in opposition to those who oppose the mine because they are concerned about long term environmental protection and financial responsibility, and neither side focusing on growing evidence that new economic growth and development financing is a ponzi scheme. Am I the only one having trouble with this picture?

northern Minnesota sky blue waters
northern Minnesota sky blue waters     © harrington

I'd like to ask an alternative question or two which, unfortunately, our current regulatory and permitting processes almost never let us raise, let alone answer. What would a sustainable Iron Range look like and work like? How would Rangers and other Minnesotans collectively find answers to those questions? Where would projects like PolyMet-NorthMet fit in a sustainable northern Minnesota? Last time I checked, lumber was a renewable resource, if managed properly. Mines eventually play out. How long should Minnesota depend on extractive industries for economic growth? Would an investment in electronic waste reprocessing and recycling facilities on the Range create longer term jobs with living wages and fewer environmental impacts? It seems to me that Minnesota has gotten well beyond the point where we should be forced to choose the least worst alternative as we try to require that the most egregious negative environmental impacts be mitigated (by those who will take their profits and retire elsewhere, leaving us or our children to spend out tax dollars to clean up their mess). We should be able to do better than that, after all, this our future  home we're developing. We shouldn't do that in the dark.

Nocturne

By Li-Young Lee 
That scraping of iron on iron when the wind   
rises, what is it? Something the wind won’t   
quit with, but drags back and forth.
Sometimes faint, far, then suddenly, close, just   
beyond the screened door, as if someone there   
squats in the dark honing his wares against   
my threshold. Half steel wire, half metal wing,   
nothing and anything might make this noise   
of saws and rasps, a creaking and groaning
of bone-growth, or body-death, marriages of rust,   
or ore abraded. Tonight, something bows
that should not bend. Something stiffens that should   
slide. Something, loose and not right,   
rakes or forges itself all night. 

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Thanks for listening. Come again when you can. Be kind to each other while you can.

White Out

After a pleasant start to the day, based on a balmy early morning 31 degrees when I walked SiSi, the temperature has been dropping and the wind's picked up. Bob Dylan's song, Girl From The North Country, has a line that goes: "To keep her from the howlin’ winds." Every time I looked out the window this morning, that line played in my ear. Western Minnesota has several roads closed due to blizzard conditions and whiteouts caused by winds around 50 mph. When I've traveled in the western parts of the state, I've noticed flashing-light barriers with road-closed signage. I'm not sure which counties or roads have "earned" those barriers and I don't recall ever seeing any in the seven-county Twin Cities metro area. MnDOT's on-line Design Manual notes [10-5.04]:

"Emergency Road Closing Gates
 Emergency road closing gates are being employed in some areas of the State to be used in the event of major winter storms or natural disasters such as floods and tornados. MnDOT has not established standards for these devices. Contact the Office of Maintenance for guidelines on emergency road closings and for information on areas using emergency road closing gates."

I'm not sure whether I feel deprived that we don't have these barriers or grateful that the powers that be think we don't need them, even on the highways to Duluth.

deer tracks in the snow
deer tracks in the snow        © harrington

Last night, while letting SiSi out to take care of business, we spooked a doe crossing the yard, possibly the same one that made some of the tracks in the photo. The doe must have been within ten or fifteen feet or so of the back of the house. When we opened the walk-out door to the screen patio, the doe bounded down our slope and up another to stand by the pear tree and decide what was going on. I was truly grateful that SiSi didn't decide she needed to go through the screen to play with a new friend.

SiSi the rescue lab
SiSi the rescue lab                 © harrington

I don't know that Emerson spent time on the Iron Range or the prairie, but he understands snow storms (New England gets to enjoy Winter too).

The Snow-Storm

By Ralph Waldo Emerson 
Announced by all the trumpets of the sky,
Arrives the snow, and, driving o'er the fields,
Seems nowhere to alight: the whited air
Hides hills and woods, the river, and the heaven,
And veils the farm-house at the garden's end.
The sled and traveller stopped, the courier's feet
Delayed, all friends shut out, the housemates sit
Around the radiant fireplace, enclosed
In a tumultuous privacy of storm.

Come see the north wind's masonry.
Out of an unseen quarry evermore
Furnished with tile, the fierce artificer
Curves his white bastions with projected roof
Round every windward stake, or tree, or door.
Speeding, the myriad-handed, his wild work
So fanciful, so savage, nought cares he
For number or proportion. Mockingly,
On coop or kennel he hangs Parian wreaths;
A swan-like form invests the hidden thorn;
Fills up the farmer's lane from wall to wall,
Maugre the farmer's sighs; and, at the gate,
A tapering turret overtops the work.
And when his hours are numbered, and the world
Is all his own, retiring, as he were not,
Leaves, when the sun appears, astonished Art
To mimic in slow structures, stone by stone,
Built in an age, the mad wind's night-work,
The frolic architecture of the snow. 

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Thanks for listening. Come again when you can. Be kind to each other.