Thursday, October 8, 2015

Questions of equity and the environment?

Did you ever read George Orwell's Animal Farm? It describes how "All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.” I was reminded of it the other day when I read this story in Timberjay, about a mining operation with a water pollution discharge permit that has no pollution limits. We've known for some time that federal clean water act requirements largely exempt agriculture and that that has tragic results for water quality in much of Minnesota. Clean water act requirements are supposed to include industrial discharges, but clever regulatory agencies can find a way to circumvent lots of federal requirements, especially if the US Environmental Protection Agency doesn't want to exercise it's authority to withdraw permit delegation authorization from the state.

St. Louis River in northern Minnesota
St. Louis River in northern Minnesota
Photo by J. Harrington

If I were an environmental compliance officer at some industry in Minnesota, say an industry that was required to make major investments to meet pollution discharge limits, I might be more than a little incensed that some other industry was getting essentially a free ride. It seems to me, based largely on the Timberjay's reporting, that's what's been going on for some time with the aid and abetting of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. An analogy that comes to mind would be if Minnesota had strict speed limit requirements, but police weren't authorized to write tickets for speeding, and the courts never got to adjudicate the guilt of accused drivers. No harm, no foul? That's pretty much the system we have in northern Minnesota for water quality protection from the pollution created by mining discharges.

Mississippi River in Minneapolis
Mississippi River in Minneapolis
Photo by J. Harrington

In the interest of full disclosure, years ago I worked for and helped represent the Metro Council's interests in federal discharge permit hearings, including one for a reissuance of the Metro Plant's discharge permit. I don't recall ever being offered a permit that just called for monitoring. I do recall, at one point, that then Governor Perpich was quoted in a newspaper as hoping Minnesota lost a court case Wisconsin had filed regarding the metro area's Combined Sewer Overflow discharges. (Instead of possibly losing the case, the Metro Council took a lead in convincing the legislature to fund implementing a solution.) That was in the days when Minnesota government seemed to take its environmental responsibilities more seriously than it does these days. Maybe the Twin Cities metro area should turn its wastewater system over to Cliffs or PolyMet. It might be able to save money on water pollution treatment costs.

Poem by the Charles River

By Robin Blaser 

It is their way to find the surface
when they die.
                      Fish feed on fish
and drop those beautiful bones
                                              to swim.
I see them stretch the water to their need
as I domesticate the separate air to be my
            These fish die easily.

I find my surface in the way they feed.
Their gathering hunger is a flash like death.
No agony
               as if
                      my mind had eaten death.

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