Wednesday, February 4, 2015

PolyMet Déjà vu

Yesterday there was a legislative hearing on copper-nickle mining in northern Minnesota. I wasn't there but I followed much of the Twitter feed, which basically reiterated the same points that have been raised before, augmented by the more recent tailings dam failure disaster in Canada. One of the spokespersons for the mining industry in Minnesota was quoted as claiming:
“We can be a model for the rest of the country and the world and move forward with responsible mining.”

northern Minnesota, Lake Superior
northern Minnesota, Lake Superior
Photo by J. Harrington

If we take him at his word, it leaves us with the obvious question -- what models are available in the rest of the country, and the rest of the world, and are the companies planning on mining copper and nickel in Minnesota meeting or exceeding those "world class standards?" According to the PolyMet Ownership Fact Sheet, "PolyMet’s largest single investor is Glencore Xstrata plc., with nearly one-third ownership." There is at least one recent report available on line [PR or Progress? Glencore’s Corporate Responsibility in the Democratic Republic of the Congo], prepared by three nongovernmental organizations, critical of Glencore's Corporate Social Responsibility efforts, particularly on environmental issues. The guardian newspaper has an in depth article on Glencore's first Corporate Social Responsibility report. It makes for interesting reading, particularly the related article with the following observation:
"...mining expert Roger Moody, of the London Mining Network, a group of non-governmental organisations concerned with the impacts of mining companies, said the company's record put it well below the sector leaders in safety terms...."
Based on this brief assessment, I would agree that the PolyMet project, if approved and permitted, offers a promise it might be a model for the rest of the country. However neither PolyMet nor Glencore is a member of Ceres, according to their list of network members, nor is the mining industry listed as one of the participating industry sectors, although oil and gas are. To be fair, Glencore has produced a 2013 Sustainability Report which lists their fines paid for environmental violations. 
Based on the reports linked above I wonder if Minnesota would not be better served if PolyMet's owners could legitimately claim "we have been models for the rest of the world and have functioned without major environmental violations for X years..." Does Minnesota really want copper-nickel mining next to the BWCWA to be a training grounds for environmentally responsible mining? 

Meeting the Mountains

By Gary Snyder 

He crawls to the edge of the foaming creek   
He backs up the slab ledge
He puts a finger in the water
He turns to a trapped pool
Puts both hands in the water
Puts one foot in the pool
Drops pebbles in the pool
He slaps the water surface with both hands   
He cries out, rises up and stands
Facing toward the torrent and the mountain   
Raises up both hands and shouts three times!

VI 69, Kai at Sawmill Lake

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