Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Environmental justice: sustainable wild rice?

Do you know that wild rice is Minnesota's state grain, or that Renewing America's Food Traditions identifies Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan and part of southern Canada, as Wild Rice Nation? Are you aware that many of the Native Americans in that region depend on wild rice (Manoomin) harvesting as a way to sustain their culture? Do you think it's reasonable that highly profitable mining companies, that can afford to pay their executives millions of dollars, claim they can't afford to meet water quality standards that would protect wild rice, because the global market for iron ore is down. Do you know that taconite processing is a measurable contributor (p 18) to Minnesota's mercury water quality issues? These questions, and many like them, are going to become more and more important over the next few years. The answers aren't always going to be simple and straight forward, because the issues and the science are complex. We're going to need to learn how to better address these kinds of complex concerns as we build a sustainable Minnesota.

MPCA's Minnesota wild rice waters
MPCA's Minnesota wild rice waters

One of the issues that I find particularly worrisome is how, if the site specific approach proposed by MPCA is accepted, can they then justify not using similar site specific standards for all the other parts of the state that are economically affected by water quality requirements, or air quality requirements for that matter. Do we let a huge hog farm off the hook because it would cost too much to treat the hogs' raw sewage and it only discharges to a ditch? How can the same governor propose buffers to protect agricultural waters from polluted runoff and think that  the Minnesota legislature will ever approve the funding needed for MPCA to staff this new approach? And finally, at least for now, how will this new approach fit with the federally authorized and approved water quality standards on Native American reservations in Minnesota?

I think the steel companies are headed for some notable corporate social responsibility concerns and the Dayton administration is looking at some interesting environmental justice issues. Responsible mining companies are becoming more aware of their need for a "social license to operate." It seems to me that Minnesota could use some education from those familiar with that concept.

early Spring, bud growth
early Spring, bud growth
Photo by J. Harrington

On a brighter note, I just noticed that the red maples in front of the house are opening their buds. They're reddish now but will turn green soon. Maybe one or more of today's shades of green will soon appear? Maybe Wendell Berry's correct about our Real Work?

The Real Work

It may be that when we no longer know what to do
we have come to our real work,

and that when we no longer know which way to go
we have come to our real journey.

The mind that is not baffled is not employed.

The impeded stream is the one that sings.  

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Please be kind to each other while you can.