Friday, April 17, 2015

Mining beyond compliance

Have you noticed a similarity in the statements from spokespersons for proposed mining projects in northern Minnesota? I have. In response to Representative McCollum's proposed legislation, the National Park and Wilderness Waters Protection Act, restricting new mining in the Rainy River basin, Twin Metals issued a statement. According to northern Minnesota's Timberjay, it contained this: “The vast Rainy River basin contains millions of acres of valuable state and federal minerals, and in much of the area environmentally responsible mining is currently allowed and encouraged by both state and federal law,” said the company.

PolyMet asserts, on its web site, that it "Working with state and federal agencies, we are demonstrating that our NorthMet Project will meet all applicable Minnesota and federal environmental standards."

I haven't yet seen an acknowledgement from either proposer that others in the mining sector are working to find cost effective ways to go beyond compliance with current regulations and move mining to serve as a major contributor to a sustainable world.

Minnesota's North Shore on Lake Superior
Minnesota's North Shore on Lake Superior
Photo by J. Harrington

There is an overwhelming (or underwhelming, depending on the starting point) difference between compliance (we will do what is required in the regulations and permits) and superior performance. We see a lot of those changes occurring in the green building sector highlighting the differences between buildings built just to meet code and those designed, constructed and operated to obtain and maintain a green building certification such as the U.S. Green Building Council's LEED, and those projects targeted toward zero impact, such as those being developed in accordance with the Living Building Challenge. European countries are investigating the possibility of zero impact deep mines. Using Google search, I can find no similar activity for the U.S. Would it be helpful for Minnesota to work with mine developers and owners, environmental regulators and advocates and other stakeholders to lead the US toward zero impact mining? Minnesota is facing contentious environmental issues in the northern third of the state from iron mining and proposed copper-nickle mines. Southern Minnesota continues to grapple with frac sand mining impacts.

Instead of responding to developers proposals and simply being reactive, might we not better serve this and future generations of Minnesotans by being proactive? Obviously, at least the one of us posting this thinks so. I've become impressed by how much improvement an integrative development process can contribute to a project. It's been some time since "Design, Announce and Defend" has served as a successful project management strategy, yet that's essentially what we're doing in mining, with an EIS or two tacked on. Maybe we can find a way to apply integrative design to mine developments and avoid generating 58,000 comments on the second version of an EIS because the first version wasn't acceptable. Think how much money and aggravation could be saved and how much of the environment protected if we learned to cooperate, go beyond compliance, and get it right the first time.

National Poetry Month

Elliptical

By Harryette Mullen 

They just can’t seem to . . . They should try harder to . . . They ought to be more . . . We all wish they weren’t so . . . They never . . . They always . . . Sometimes they . . . Once in a while they . . . However it is obvious that they . . . Their overall tendency has been . . . The consequences of which have been . . . They don’t appear to understand that . . . If only they would make an effort to . . . But we know how difficult it is for them to . . . Many of them remain unaware of . . . Some who should know better simply refuse to . . . Of course, their perspective has been limited by . . . On the other hand, they obviously feel entitled to . . . Certainly we can’t forget that they . . . Nor can it be denied that they . . . We know that this has had an enormous impact on their . . . Nevertheless their behavior strikes us as . . . Our interactions unfortunately have been . . .     


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