Sunday, July 19, 2015

What would Pope Francis think of Minnesota's mining?

Slowly but surely events are conspiring to undermine my pessimistic cynicism. I look forward to the change. Learning that Pope Francis has said the "Mining industry needs radical change to protect people, nature" makes me wonder what the Catholic Church is coming to. "To its senses" and "back to its roots" are two possibilities I hadn't expected to be confronted with. The next thing you know, congress may engage in productive behavior and enact legislation that will benefit 99% of the people (not persons) that inhabit this country. They might even do "the right thing" and repeal the land trade that authorizes a land swap with a mining company land for public land the Apache consider sacred.

Lake Superior's rocky shores
Lake Superior's rocky shores
Photo by J. Harrington

When it comes to mining, Minnesota engages in its own version of obsequious behavior. Although we're not yet quite at the level of back-room congressional deals, we're trying hard to get there. I spent time recently skimming through the Water Legacy petition [02-JUL-15] to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency [EPA] which asks EPA to withdraw its approval of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency's delegated authority to issue Pollution Discharge permits. One of the issues the petition cites is undue political interference in the water quality protection process.
"in 2015, the Minnesota Legislature prohibited the MPCA from listing waters impaired for wild rice as a result of violation of Minnesota’s wild rice sulfate standard. As WaterLegacy learned through Minnesota Data Practices Act requests, in response to EPA and public comments on the 2012 section 303(d) list, in 2013 MPCA began identifying wild rice waters impaired due to elevated sulfate. By August 2013, MPCA had a preliminary list, which mining interests, including U.S. Steel, lobbied to forestall until new wild rice rules were promulgated. (Exhibit 19, MPCA Wild Rice Impaired Waters Documents, Aug. – Nov. 2013, Ex. Pages 399-414). Despite a 2014 timeline promised by MPCA, no Minnesota wild rice impaired waters list has been released to date."

"In an interview with Minnesota Public Radio posted on line, Governor Mark Dayton explained that MPCA would soon present an alternative to preserving and enforcing the 10 mg/L wild rice sulfate standard. (Exhibit 22, Transcript of MPR Interview with Gov. Dayton Mar. 29, 2015 and Affidavit of Transcription, Ex. Pages 428-431). In this interview, the Governor said, with no apparent irony, that U.S. Steel had made it clear they would not agree to a permit applying the existing wild rice sulfate standard:
U.S. Steel has made it very clear they’re not going to — and they closed down the Keewatin plant, they’re still operating the Minntac plant — but they made it very clear they’re not going to agree to a permit that has the standard of 10 [10 milligrams per liter] which was set in, by science — was posted in 1940, and established in the 1960s and 70s as the standard, which is not applied to most other projects in Minnesota or anywhere else in the country. (Id., Ex. Page 428)
When a state’s governor suggests that a regulated party may reject compliance with an applicable water quality standard, that state cannot provide effective CWA regulatory authority."

a quiet cove, Lake Superior
a quiet cove, Lake Superior
Photo by J. Harrington

You might want to make a note to be sure to follow the EPA response to this petition. MPCA still lists the wild rice impaired waters as pending. I suspect you can find updates at the Water Legacy web site. I've been reading about a similar petition that was filed in EPA Region 1 asking that approval of Vermont's delegation be rescinded. That took a number of years to resolve. The affected parties claim to be pleased with the outcome. I'd be pleased if Minnesota's independent Pollution Control Agency Citizen Board were reinstated and the Agency were allowed to do its job of protecting the environment us without short-sighted political interference. Do you suppose we could get the Pope to speak to the governor and the legislature?

North Star

In Hanko, Finland
a young woman boards
the vessel in the Baltic
for a ship across the Atlantic.
The North Star shines in the sky.
She's carrying in her valise
a change of clothes
a packet of seeds
and the sauna dipper.
Distance pours between constellations
between English words on her tongue
through storms and sun.
In New York City, she buys
a one way ticket
boards the train going
across the continent
arrives on an inland sea.
The winter ground underfoot
is familiar with frost
as she transfers to a northbound
along the Vermilion Trail
in Minnesota.
Ahead of her waits a man
a house to be built
and a fire that burns it down.
Ahead, eleven children
to bear, a few she must bury,
the cows in the barn
needing to be milked.
Unbroken ground only hers to till.
Above her, the North Star
inside the aurora borealis, northern
banners waving welcome —  

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Please be kind to each other while you can.