Thursday, February 12, 2015

Should Minnesota pilot responsible mining standards?

Sometimes I wonder about our political processes. Steel companies are leaning on our legislature to weaken federally approved water quality standards. US Steel had a 4th quarter profit of $275 million for the 4th quarter last year. A review of their financial statements makes one wonder where the "hardship" of meeting long-standing water quality standards ranks with all the other hardships the steel industry faces. An opinion piece in yesterday's Star Tribune nicely highlighted the status of the standards US Steel claims could pose a "hardship." At least Target didn't claim environmental standards were to blame for the economic hardship they're suffering after their unsuccessful Canada initiative.

Minnesota Iron Ore Mining Employment and Labor Productivity
source: Thomas Michael Power

After seeing the taconite folks claim environmental standards are eating into their profits, I wonder about the copper-nickel mining industry and their "responsible mining" claims. There is, though, a way to see if any of the mining entities in Minnesota truly mean what they say when they claim they're "responsible." Ask them, for the record, how they'd go about meeting the draft standards developed by the Initiative for Responsible Mining Assurance. Personally, I'd love to see the IRRRB take some leadership and work with the mining companies, existing and prospective, on a pilot effort and make the outcome public. The standards in question have been prepared with the participation of the mining industry. Let's see how well they may fit Minnesota's existing and prospective mining projects.

Standard for Responsible Mining

To put this in a slightly different perspective, looking at a different project, the Minneapolis Park Board is being accused of delaying and increasing the costs of the SouthWest Light Rail Transit project because they've got the Feds to require the Metro Council to follow the rules. The issue in contention arises from Section 4(f) that "states that a special effort must be made to preserve the natural beauty of the countryside and public park and recreation lands, wildlife and waterfowl refuges, and historic sites. Section 4(f) has been part of Federal law in some form since 1966." Based on what I've read in the paper, the Metro Council could have been more thorough when they engaged in due diligence on "prudent and feasible alternatives" early in the process. If they had, Minnesota might have a project moving ahead now. Even a recovering planner (who once worked at the Metro Council) knows there's such a thing as "penny wise, pound foolish." We'd all be better served if we focused on developing projects that meet the needs of all stakeholders, rather than winning a turf war or weakening long established standards. The green building industry is discovering that to produce a better product, you need a better process. That's where Integrative Design comes in. It seems to me that Minnesota could come out way ahead if we applied integrative design thinking to our project development, especially if there might be some disagreement along the way.


By Alison Hawthorne Deming 

Then it was the future, though what’s arrived   
isn’t what we had in mind, all chrome and   
cybernetics, when we set up exhibits
in the cafeteria for the judges
to review what we’d made of our hypotheses.

The class skeptic (he later refused to sign   
anyone’s yearbook, calling it a sentimental   
degradation of language) chloroformed mice,   
weighing the bodies before and after
to catch the weight of the soul,

wanting to prove the invisible
real as a bagful of nails. A girl
who knew it all made cookies from euglena,
a one-celled compromise between animal and plant,   
she had cultured in a flask.

We’re smart enough, she concluded,
to survive our mistakes, showing photos of farmland,   
poisoned, gouged, eroded. No one believed
he really had built it when a kid no one knew   
showed up with an atom smasher, confirming that

the tiniest particles could be changed   
into something even harder to break.
And one whose mother had cancer (hard to admit now,   
it was me) distilled the tar of cigarettes   
to paint it on the backs of shaven mice.

She wanted to know what it took,
a little vial of sure malignancy,
to prove a daily intake smaller
than a single aspirin could finish
something as large as a life. I thought of this

because, today, the dusky seaside sparrow
became extinct. It may never be as famous
as the pterodactyl or the dodo,
but the last one died today, a resident
of Walt Disney World where now its tissue samples

lie frozen, in case someday we learn to clone
one from a few cells. Like those instant dinosaurs
that come in a gelatin capsule—just add water   
and they inflate. One other thing this
brings to mind. The euglena girl won first prize

both for science and, I think, in retrospect, for hope.

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