Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Can mining Northern Minnesota be made sustainable?

Thanks to the foresight of the Better Half, today we had a picnic lunch at the beach, that six or seven mile long sand spit in Duluth on the "other" side of the lift bridge. I can't remember the last time I was face-to-face with beach grass, probably more than 40 years ago. It was a very pleasant ending to a trip that was a nice break from our daily and weekly routine. Duluth remains one of my favorite places in Minnesota and this trip only strengthened that reaction. Most, but not all, of my past trips have been in the Winter, and/or focused on downtown. This time we stayed up near the University campus end of town. It's the first time I've stayed anywhere other than downtown or Canal Park. The photo below was taken from the patio of our room.

looking south toward Duluth, MN
Photo by J. Harrington

While we were waiting for our picnic lunch to be made up, I came across a month-old issue of Zenith City Weekly, an alternate newspaper that had an interesting piece by Anne Stewart about all the mining exploration across northern Minnesota that we don't hear much about. It once again made me think that we need to get started trying to make mining in Minnesota more sustainable than it has been. We're supposed to be in a new normal, but most of the rules of the mining game were written a century or more ago. We can do better. I'm not sure if this is the best place to start, but it is a place to try to broaden the conversation about mining in Minnesota. These ten principles were taken from a 2003 effort by "the International Council of Mining & Metals (ICMM) commissioned member companies to implement and measure their performance against 10 sustainable development principles."
1. Implement and maintain ethical business practices and sound systems of corporate governance....
2. Integrate sustainable development considerations within the corporate decision-making process....
3. Uphold fundamental human rights and respect cultures, customs and values in dealings with employees and others who are affected by our activities....
4. Implement risk management strategies based on valid data and sound science....
5. Seek continual improvement of our health and safety performance....
6. Seek continual improvement of our environmental performance....
7. Contribute to conservation of biodiversity and integrated approaches to land use planning....
8. Facilitate and encourage responsible product design, use, re-use, recycling and disposal of our products....
9. Contribute to the social, economic and institutional development of the communities in which we operate....
10. Implement effective and transparent engagement, communication and independently verified reporting arrangements with our stakeholders....
I found these principles in an online article at miningglobal.com. Of course, as always when dealing with a topic like this, follow former President Reagan's advice to "Trust, but verify." On the other hand, if much of northern Minnesota could end up being mined, I'm not looking forward to the results if we follow history and past practices. These principles could be a step forward if we are willing to move past a simple win-lose decision-making process. Maybe, just maybe, we could cause Dylan to rethink these closing lines from North Country Blues.
The summer is gone
The ground's turning cold
The stores one by one they're a-foldin'
My children will go
As soon as they grow
For there ain't nothin' here now to hold them.

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