Thursday, July 16, 2015

Will Minnesota ever take the profit out of pollution?

Today I want to lay out some dots and see if we can draw connections among them.

Lake Superior sunrise
Lake Superior sunrise
Photo by J. Harrington

  1. Yesterday's MinnPost has an article I suggest you read: Citing MPCA weakness, group asks feds to step in on mining's water pollution

  2. Please also make time to read, or at least skim, the entire petition that's summarized in the MinnPost article

  3. In the interest (or at least my interest) in finding out more about the process of withdrawing approval for a Water Quality Delegation, I discovered the US E.P.A.'s database of withdrawal petitions which lists both the one in the MinnPost article and a 2009 petition as "pending."

  4. In my searches of the internets, I found this 2007 Public Interest Research Group's report, Troubled Waters, which, among other mining mentions, notes that "NORTHSHORE MINING CO;CLIFFS MN" was in violation of its discharge permit (MN0046981) 7 of 12 months during calendar year 2005. (That might support concerns about lax enforcement efforts.)

  5. That same report refreshed my memory on the background for why we needed recent rule changes defining "waters of the United States."(Think about how this might apply to today's Minnesota and some mining proposals.)
  6. The 2003 and 2007 policy directives put thousands of miles of streams and millions of acres of wetlands in danger of unlimited pollution and development. EPA has acknowledged that the 2003 policy alone could remove federal Clean Water Act protections from 20 million acres of wetlands, or about 20% of the wetlands in the lower 48 states.24 When the federal government decides a waterway is outside of the scope of the Clean Water Act, all protections of the law are removed, including the need for a NDPES permit to discharge pollution into that waterway. More than 40% of the NPDES permitted facilities for which EPA has location data discharge into headwater, intermittent or ephemeral streams.25 These are the categories of streams that are at risk of losing Clean Water Act protection.

    As a result of these policies, developers, mining companies and other polluters seeking exemption from the Clean Water Act are able to argue that wetlands, streams, ponds or other waters fall outside of the Clean Water Act’s jurisdiction. The Army Corps’ own reporting shows that thousands of waters across the country have already lost protection as a result of the 2003 policy.26 Waters that have lost protection include a 150- mile-long river basin in New Mexico, four thousand acres of wetlands in Florida, and a 69-mile-long canal used as a drinking water supply in California.27 [emphasis added]
  7. The Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa commissioned a study of the value of the ecoservices in the St. Louis River watershed. (Although I have reservations about trying to put a dollar value on ecoservices, it may become a necessary evil.) The $5 to $14 billion annual total (that's with a "B" every year) sure looks better to me than 360 relatively short term jobs and hundreds of years of pollution treatment or permit violations. If you don't have time to look at the whole report, here's a link to a four-page fact sheet.

St. Louis River
St. Louis River
Photo by J. Harrington

Those were at least six dots. We are the connection. This country is supposed to be a democracy. We, the people (not corporate persons nor their peons) get to decide whether we have clean water, water we can safely drink and swim in and fish in and boat on, every time we vote, or don't vote. We make those choices with everything we buy. Interference by Minnesota's legislature in the permitting process is, to me, one of the most troublesome allegations in the petition to withdraw approval from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. Clean, potable, fishable, swimmable water is becoming more and more scarce and, with global warming, more valuable. Many individuals and companies might say they care about clean water in a clean environment, but they put "jobs" and "economic development" and profit at a higher priority. That doesn't work for the environment or the economy and the rest of us. Those who would defile our resources because they "can't afford" to meet water quality requirements, or clean air regulations or ... , are wrong. They are essentially stealing from the rest of us. Then again, too many of us don't bother to get out and vote for those who support clean water and the economic, environmental and public health benefits it brings. Please think about this between now and November 2016. Join a conservation or water quality organization. Remember Joni Mitchell's wonderful lyrics "You don't know what you've got 'til it's gone." Act on that thought. Insist that our regulatory agencies and politicians protect us and our children and our pets and most of our livelihoods. Don't support politicians or companies that profit from pollution. Let's support a new normal and not same old same old environmental degradation that doesn't have to be.

For You O Democracy

By Walt Whitman 

Come, I will make the continent indissoluble,
I will make the most splendid race the sun ever shone upon,
I will make divine magnetic lands,
                   With the love of comrades,
                      With the life-long love of comrades.

I will plant companionship thick as trees along all the rivers of America, and along the shores of the great lakes, and all over the prairies,
I will make inseparable cities with their arms about each other’s necks,
                   By the love of comrades,
                      By the manly love of comrades.

For you these from me, O Democracy, to serve you ma femme!
For you, for you I am trilling these songs.

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