Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Mining between rocks and hard places

This morning on The Daily Yonder there was a story about a documentary film on uranium mining in Colorado. If you care about mining and its impacts in Minnesota, it would be a worthwhile read, I think. It points out the difficult balancing that needs to be taken into consideration, and fits nicely with Monday's Duluth News Tribune story regarding the growing number of health professionals raising concerns about the proposed PolyMet mine project's public health impact. A few days ago, My Minnesota fussed and fumed about the Precautionary Principle and its application to a relatively bird-safe "People's Stadium." It seems even more apropos to the questions being raised about the proposed mines impact. Even more broadly, it would seem, given continuing uncertainty about mining's long term viability from an economic as well as an environmental perspective, as exemplified by Duluth Metals recent actions. [By the way, I loved the note "/NOT FOR DISTRIBUTION TO US NEWSWIRE SERVICES OR DISSEMINATION IN THE UNITED STATES /"] (Thanks to Aaron Klemz for the Tweet.)

northern Minnesota rocks and hard places
Photo by J. Harrington

At the other end of the Iron Range (So to speak) Ely is doing its best to reinvent itself. One of the big questions they're going to have to deal with, I believe, is that the kind of folks who could live (and work or vacation) anywhere aren't usually too much in favor of local environmental contamination. Since metallic ores are a nonrenewable resource, at some point the "high-paying mining jobs" will be gone. How long that may take is speculative. The environmental mess that's historically been left behind isn't. I'm beginning to think that many places dependent on extractive industries are going to have to choose, or we collectively have to convince mine owners and financiers that it's in their best interest to do more than the minimum legally required for environmental controls and reclamation. This quote for PolyMet's Vice President makes me wonder about mining's ability to display enlightened self-interest.
Bruce Richardson, PolyMet vice president of corporate communications and external affairs, noted Monday that a similar request by a few medical professionals was made before the public comment period on the environmental review closed earlier this year. He said the time to raise the issue has now passed.
“To try and work it outside the process is neither appropriate nor productive,” Richardson said. The environmental impact statement “thoroughly addresses health-related impacts of the project.”
That kind of approach reminds me of many years ago in Massachusetts, when I used to have to try to deal with Army Corps of Engineers staff and their "design, announce, and defend" mentality. Sigh! I think this is worth protecting, don't you? How about the health of our children and grandchildren? How many folks would intentionally trade their child's health for a job, no matter how well it paid?

Lake Superior rocks
Photo by J. Harrington

The Planet Krypton

By Lynn Emanuel 

Outside the window the McGill smelter
sent a red dust down on the smoking yards of copper,   
on the railroad tracks’ frayed ends disappeared   
into the congestion of the afternoon. Ely lay dull

and scuffed: a miner’s boot toe worn away and dim,   
while my mother knelt before the Philco to coax   
the detonation from the static. From the Las Vegas   
Tonapah Artillery and Gunnery Range the sound

of the atom bomb came biting like a swarm
of bees. We sat in the hot Nevada dark, delighted,   
when the switch was tripped and the bomb hoisted   
up its silky, hooded, glittering, uncoiling length;

it hissed and spit, it sizzled like a poker in a toddy.   
The bomb was no mind and all body; it sent a fire
of static down the spine. In the dark it glowed like the coils   
of an electric stove. It stripped every leaf from every

branch until a willow by a creek was a bouquet   
of switches resinous, naked, flexible, and fine.   
Bathed in the light of KDWN, Las Vegas,
my crouched mother looked radioactive, swampy,

glaucous, like something from the Planet Krypton.   
In the suave, brilliant wattage of the bomb, we were
not poor. In the atom’s fizz and pop we heard possibility   
uncorked. Taffeta wraps whispered on davenports.

A new planet bloomed above us; in its light
the stumps of cut pine gleamed like dinner plates.
The world was beginning all over again, fresh and hot;   
we could have anything we wanted.

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Please be kind to each other while you can.