Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Mining pollutes financial as well as natural environments

Within the next several months, the state of Minnesota, and its governor, will reach a decision on the adequacy of an Environmental Impact Statement for the PolyMet NorthMet project. If the state, through the Department of Natural Resources, issues permits for the proposed mining project, I wonder if they will take into consideration, as part of a broader financial assurance requirement, the number of mining company bankruptcies that have avoided significant "costs" anticipated to be paid in miners pensions or benefits.

Mining in Minnesota, rocks and hard places
Mining in Minnesota, rocks and hard places
Photo by J. Harrington

In the past, Minnesota's US Senator Franken has raised concerns about such occurrences in regard to past industry practices: "Questions PBGC Director Nominee about Corporate Practices that Gut Miners' Pensions;" and "Iron Range Pension Oversight." From what I can tell, legislation initially introduced by Senator Franken, and reintroduced by others subsequently, intended to help protect miners, has never been enacted.

I started thinking more about these issues after reading the article in today's Star Tribune that "As 76 million baby boomers near the end of their working lives, the nation is hurtling toward a retirement financial crisis." I'm also aware of the fact that precious few hedge fund managers or politicians get as screwed as miners when it come to pension benefits. It isn't just that the 1% has a grossly (in every sense of the word) disproportionate share of the nation's assets, the share they have seems to be much better protected than that held by honest workers.

I'll once again note that my objections aren't to mining operations per say, but are based on mining companies long established track records of exploiting natural resources, polluting the environment plus exploiting human resources, often indigenous people, while leaving government to hold the bag as investors and executives enjoy the spoils. Mining operations and companies are frequently structured to be not "too big to fail," but to be able to "bail at fail" with government, the environment and locals trying to clean up the messes left behind. Is that what northern Minnesota really wants to continue to bet its future on? What are the odds, if the mine is permitted, those 350 "high-paying jobs" will ever collect a dime of pension? Too high to bet on?

Mrs. Kessler

By Edgar Lee Masters 

Mr. Kessler, you know, was in the army,
And he drew six dollars a month as a pension,
And stood on the corner talking politics,
Or sat at home reading Grant’s Memoirs;
And I supported the family by washing,
Learning the secrets of all the people
From their curtains, counterpanes, shirts and skirts.
For things that are new grow old at length,
They’re replaced with better or none at all:
People are prospering or falling back.
And rents and patches widen with time;
No thread or needle can pace decay,
And there are stains that baffle soap,
And there are colors that run in spite of you,
Blamed though you are for spoiling a dress.
Handkerchiefs, napery, have their secrets
The laundress, Life, knows all about it.
And I, who went to all the funerals
Held in Spoon River, swear I never
Saw a dead face without thinking it looked
Like something washed and ironed.

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