Thursday, August 28, 2014

Beauty and the Beast

If I were to use the photo below as a metaphor for northern Minnesota, the sailboat (although not a canoe) would be the Boundary Waters and the ship would be mining. Just as both can be accommodated on Lake Superior, I believe that, if done properly and with more cooperation and additional limitations than exist today, northern Minnesota could benefit from nonferrous mining and keep the beautiful (but not really pristine) environment that we have today. I suggest that the Boundary Waters Canoe Wilderness Area isn't pristine because it shares an airshed that is already affected by offsite pollution. Many of the waters in the BWCA have uses impaired by mercury pollution levels in fish inhabiting those waters.

cargo ship and sail boat in Duluth harbor
Photo by J. Harrington

I'm not suggesting we accept defeat and let the BWCA be ravaged. I am proposing that the regulatory and legal structure we have for protecting northern Minnesota's environment is grossly inadequate to the task. I'm also suggesting that the desire for northern Minnesota to have more jobs that pay a year-round living wage will be subject to the ongoing boom or bust commodities economy that has troubled the Iron Range for years. I don't think the miners or the environmental advocates are likely to achieve what either group most desires as long as there's an on-going war between them. Beauty, all too often, is in the eye of the beholder. I happen to like dragonflies. Others find them scary.

dragonfly on screen door
Photo by J. Harrington

What I find really scary is the influence of global corporations keeping northern Minnesota under a threat of mining with inadequate environmental safeguards. In fact, politically, environmentalists seem to be losing the argument. The House of Representatives, over White House objections, passed HR 761, "the National Strategic and Critical Minerals Production Act of 2013." Many of us believe it could gut the environmental protections, such as they are, northern Minnesota currently enjoys. It passed the House with 15 Democratic votes, including one from Congressman Nolan. What troubles me even more, though, is that both of our Senators are backing comparable legislation in the Senate.

monarch butterfly in Duluth
Photo by J. Harrington
Several politicians and some lawyers that I consider friends have suggested as strategy that "if the law's against you, argue facts, if the facts are against you, argue law." The monarch butterfly is in trouble due to GMO's and their associated herbicides. Bees are in trouble far a variety of reasons including monoculture and herbicides. There is strong resistance to doing what may be needed to protect either species. I think we need to argue both the facts and the laws to change the ground rules and make Minnesota a world leader in sustainable mining. It won't be quick; it won't be easy; but, it should be doable and better than the alternative. This is a strategic change for environmental protection.

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