Thursday, August 27, 2015

Once again "the state that works?"

A long, long time ago I learned that Albert Einstein is reported to have observed that "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." (You can check it on the Internet if you don't believe me.) Assuming, for the sake of this posting, that Albert was and remains correct, then I have to note that Minnesota's environmental review and permitting process has approached the insane. We keep following the same process and ending up with results that make lots of us, whether for or against a project, unhappy. (For the record, I've never been willing to accept that a good compromise leaves everyone mad.)

Minnesota's north shore on Lake Superior
Minnesota's north shore on Lake Superior
Photo by J. Harrington

The most recent evidence I've seen of our "failed" process is reflected in Paula Maccabee's August 26, 2015 StarTribune Counterpoint "'Modern mining' isn't the plan here." After years of work and one failed attempt thus far to produce an acceptable Environmental Impact Statement for the proposed PolyMet NorthMet mining project, and the awareness and growing frustration that that's just the tip of the iceberg, we now see the current alternatives analysis isn't likely to include the use of "best practices" nor is the water model, on which so much depends, based on the best available data set. If you've been reading past postings here, my biases are pretty clear. I don't think mining contributes much to a sustainable future for northern Minnesota, but I also believe that what's been proposed for sulfide copper mining could be done in a less environmentally damaging way. Furthermore, I suspect that we could reach permit decisions in a more cost-effective and less socially damaging way than we've been going about it. We could start a parallel process using techniques from restorative justice and Native American communications.

the Sawtooth Mountains
the Sawtooth Mountains
Photo by J. Harrington

Paul Hawkens, Amory Lovins and L. Hunter Lovins offer a number of worthwhile suggestions in their book Natural Capitalism. The green building sector has benefitted immensely from the outcomes of integrative design processes. In a similar vein, just this past week I found that a lawyer by the name of JANE KLOECKNER has written a paper on Developing a Sustainable Hardrock Mining and Mineral Processing Industry: Environmental and Natural Resource Law for Twenty-First Century People, Prosperity, and the Planet.

marking the way forward?
marking the way forward?
Photo by J. Harrington

If I were a congressperson from Minnesota's 8th congressional district, or a United States Senator representing Minnesota, and I cared about the environment of the north woods and the economy of northern Minnesota, I might want to have someone on my staff read that paper and do a little more research on the sustainability of modern mining. I might also want to engage one or more of the Minnesota-based foundations who could help support a stakeholder convening (sort of like an Itasca Project for mining) and then invite the stakeholders to work on this. Minnesota could, if we did it right, turn what currently looks suspiciously like a race to the bottom into an example of showing how it should be done. That's what the "state that works" is noted for, right? Right? Or, we can let the process play out, see if permits are issued, see if lawsuits are filed, see who, if anyone, wins and who loses over the next ten to twenty years before dirt is moved.

Scavenging the Wall

By R. T. Smith 

When fall brought the graders to Atlas Road,
I drove through gray dust thick as a battle
and saw the ditch freshly scattered with   gravel.

Leveling, shaving on the bevel, the blade
and fanged scraper had summoned sleepers—
limestone loaves and blue slate, skulls of quartz

not even early freeze had roused. Some rocks
were large as buckets, others just a scone
tumbled up and into light the first time

in ages. Loose, sharp, they were a hazard
to anyone passing. So I gathered
what I could, scooped them into the bed

and trucked my freight away under birdsong
in my own life's autumn. I was eager
to add to the snaggled wall bordering

my single acre, to be safe, to be still
and watch the planet's purposeful turning
behind a cairn of roughly balanced stones.

Uprooted, scarred, weather-gray of bones,
I love their old smell, the familiar unknown.
To be sure this time I know where I belong

I have brought, at last, the vagrant road home.


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