Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Can mining become a good neighbor?

It's not just Minnesota environmentalists who find fault with the way hardrock mining is done. A previously mentioned article by Jane Kloeckner, "written for completion of an LL.M. in Urban Law, environmental emphasis, at the University of Missouri, Kansas City School of Law" cites a 2004 report, "Office of Inspector General, Evaluation Report, Nationwide Identification of Hardrock Mining Sites, Report No. 2004-P-00005, which found:
"...This [hardrock mining] industry successfully resists modern environmental law protections, follows antiquated mine development rules, and uses waste management practices that damage the environment and harm human health. The federal, state, and tribal environmental and natural resource laws and regulations exempt hardrock mining and mineral processing facilities from reasonable pollution control and allow unsustainable nineteenth century mineral activities and industrial behaviors."

northern Minnesota's St. Louis River
northern Minnesota's St. Louis River
Photo by J. Harrington

We are now well into the 21st century. Hardrock mining has quite a bit of catching up to do as Ms. Kloeckner writes: "Developing a sustainable mining and mineral processing industry with appropriate governmental oversight means (1) enacting “necessary legal, fiscal, and environmental policies”15 to support strong mining institutions with accountability and transparency,16 and (2) establishing clear environmental and social policies, as well as compliance standards that achieve rigorous standards of environmental and social conduct, which would include providing support to local and indigenous populations." Such social policies might have preempted a recent refusal of permission to allow a wetland scientists to access study sites PolyMet hopes to obtain from public lands while also claiming "Modern mining is no threat to Minnesota." That inconsistency reads to me like resistance to transparency and accountability as well as a reflection of the mindset that accompanied mine development in the early days of mining, which sometimes preceded statehood's limited regulatory framework. (small numbers are footnotes in the cited paper.)

solar panels in northern Minnesota
solar panels in northern Minnesota
Photo by J. Harrington

On the other hand, several recent news articles reflect growing interest in the development and use of renewable energy by some in the mining sector [The importance of solar and wind energy in Mining; and, Sun-Drenched Miners Look to the Skies to Cut Fuel Costs in Half]. The first article linked even notes  that Glencore, a major investor in the proposed PolyMet NorthMet development, "...recently installed a 3MW wind turbine and energy storage facility at its Raglan mine in the Nunavik region of northern Quebec, in Canada..." to save money on diesel. Is a more "progressive" approach to mine development in locations other than Minnesota, due only to cost savings, or are those locations more insistent that mining companies be better citizens and neighbors as a condition of the "social license" to operate? I don't know how you feel about it, but I'd take a bet that learning to install, maintain and repair solar energy in northern Minnesota probably has a longer and brighter future than either iron or hardrock mining. I'd be betting that the sun will outlast ore. Has Minnesota looked at the idea of a community benefits agreement as a condition of any potential future permits to mine? Why not forego trying to win a race to the bottom and try things the Minnesota way. Remember Reserve!

Our Neighbor:

By Ivan Hobson 

Every family that lived in our court
had an American truck
with a union sticker on the back

and as a kid I admired them
the way I thought our soldiers
must have admired Patton
and Sherman tanks.

You once told me
that the Russians couldn’t take us,
not with towns like ours
full of iron, full of workers tempered
by the fires of foundries and mills.

It wasn’t the Russians that came;
it was the contract, the strike,
the rounds of layoffs that blistered
until your number was called.

I still remember you loading up
to leave for the last time,
the union sticker scraped off
with a putty knife,

the end of the white tarp draped
over your truck bed
flapping as you drove away.


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