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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