Monday, November 30, 2015

Could Minnesota be liable for copper mining's "lost profits?"

Let me start today's posting with the disclaimer: "I am not a lawyer and the following isn't a legal analysis." I have, as a planner, done some scenario development and a potential scenario, based on recent readings, compels me to take this opportunity to suggest additional reasons why the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and the Pollution Control Agency should be directed by Governor Mark Dayton to not issue permits required for the PolyMet or other mining projects to proceed, at least until there's been a generic Environmental Impact Statement with a substantially beefed up legal and financial background section. Here's why I think that's prudent and necessary.

"pristine" Lake Superior
"pristine" Lake Superior
Photo by J. Harrington

In addition to potential pollution cleanup costs for past mining, and the possibility of future cleanup costs if financial assurance requirements are insufficient, we, that is the taxpayers of Minnesota, under terms of trade agreements such as NAFTA, the pending TransPacific Partnership trade agreement, or the comparable agreement with the European Union [The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (T-TIP)] could face a lawsuit that might make Minnesota (that's us) liable for lost mining profits, if Minnesota's environmental or financial assurance requirements for a mine are deemed to be the functional equivalent of a ban on the project. That outcome could be determined not by a court, but by an arbitration panel made up of three attorneys. I noticed this possibility as I was skimming through the Winter 2016 issue of Yes! magazine, and came to this paragraph on page 50:
"...In 2009, the Canadian-based Pacific Rim mining company (now owned by Australian-based OceanaGold) sued El Salvador for refusing to allow the company to mine for gold. El Salvador had banned the project due to widespread water contamination. The lawsuit demands $300 million from the small impoverished country. Even if El Salvadore prevails, it will be out millions of dollars in legal costs,..."
Note that Minnesota is already in the process of spending $700,000+ to defend the current PolyMet EIS and/or associated permits. The TPP and T-TIP outcomes on execution will be determined in Washington, D.C. where occurs such types of mining-related political skullduggery as described in the New York Times:
"Despite these protections, in December 2014, Congress promised to hand the title for Oak Flat over to a private, Australian-British mining concern. A fine-print rider trading away the Indian holy land was added at the last minute to the must-pass military spending bill, the National Defense Authorization Act. By doing this, Congress has handed over a sacred Native American site to a foreign-owned company for what may be the first time in our nation’s history.

"The Apache are occupying Oak Flat to protest this action — to them, a sacrilegious and craven sell-off of a place “where Apaches go to pray,” in the words of the San Carlos Apache tribal chairman, Terry Rambler. The site will doubtless be destroyed for any purpose other than mining; Resolution Copper Mining will hollow out a vast chamber that, when it caves in, will leave a two-mile-wide, 1,000-foot-deep pit. The company itself has likened the result of its planned mining at Oak Flat to that of a nearby meteor crater."
So, if Congress doesn't care about the Apache, why should we believe they care about Minnesota's environmental concerns? Don't forget, the US Forest Service is already declared in favor of a land swap related to PolyMet's copper mine proposal. I don't recall seeing anything about these types of financial risks mentioned in the Environmental Impact Statement, do you? How would these issues fit with Minnesota's financial assurance requirements? Could PolyMet's investors and/or management insist that responsible financial assurance amounts are comparable to a ban on the project and seek redress under NAFTA? How do Minnesota's congressional delegation stand on TPP and T-TIP? I think in addition to heavy metals issues, we're also looking at some very muddy water on the risks associated with mining in Minnesota. I'd like to see the water clarified before we proceed any further. How about you?

Lost

By Carl Sandburg 

Desolate and lone
All night long on the lake
Where fog trails and mist creeps,
The whistle of a boat
Calls and cries unendingly,
Like some lost child
In tears and trouble
Hunting the harbor's breast
And the harbor's eyes. 


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Sunday, November 29, 2015

A ramble through season's greetings

After a few gorgeous moments of sunrise, the day has taken on a subdued, pensive mood, weather deciding what it's going to do to or for us tomorrow and Tuesday. Later I'll bake a couple of loaves of sourdough bread so the smell of warm bread can leaven the local atmosphere and the taste can make my mouth happy. Ornaments are getting hung on the tree but, I just realized, there's no Christmas music playing.... (I bet you never noticed I stepped away to start Mary Chapin Carpenter's Come Darkness, Come Light.)

Winter sunrise
Winter sunrise
Photo by J. Harrington

As I was writing today's posting, I found myself in awe of peoples' creativity and determination. Paris streets are full of the pairs of shoes of those not allowed to march in protest of climate change, including pairs from Pope Francis and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. Then there's the human chain snaking around the city to send a message of protest to the gathering world leaders. Few things would make me happier this Christmas than an outcome that includes adoption of an ambitious, fair, legally binding, agreement to decarbonize the global economy. Maybe the recent attacks on Paris civilians will help motivate global leaders to thwart terrorism through global unity. What a radical idea for Christmas, a movement toward world peace and unity? (Have you seen the cartoon about "what if the scientists are wrong and we create a better world for nothing?")

snow: how much, if any?
snow: how much, if any?
Photo by J. Harrington

I don't know if you've been tracking, but even the local weather folks seem to be coming up short on unity including whether we'll get somewhere between 2" or 10" to 11" of snow starting sometime tomorrow, unless the storm track moves south etc. I know that the Daughter Person always tries to cast her bread upon the snow drifts for a white Christmas, I'll have to keep an eye on the loaves I'm baking this afternoon so she doesn't cast my bread upon those drifts. Between the holidays, the weather, COP21, Iron Range joblessness, continuing protests about policing the Northside of Minneapolis, plus whatever else pops up on the news radar, we've got an interesting month ahead of us. Let's hope it's as joyful as it is likely to be exciting.

Fable

By Tom Sleigh 
A little village in Texas has lost its idiot.
-Caption on a protest sign

Let us deal justly.
-Edgar, disguised as Poor Tom, from Shakespeare's King Lear; act 3, scene 6
But where, oh where is the holy idiot,
truth teller and soothsayer, familiar

of spirits, rat eater, unhouseled wanderer
whose garble and babble fill rich and poor,

homeless and housed, with awe and fear?
Is he hiding in the pit of the walkie-talkie,

its grid of holes insatiably hungry,
almost like a baby, sucking in the police sergeant's

quiet voice as he calls in reinforcements?
Oh holy idiot, is that you sniffing the wind

for the warm turd smell on the mounted policemen
backing their horses' quivering, skittish

haunches into the demonstrators' faces?
Oh little village among the villages,

the wild man, the holy Bedlamite is gone,
and nobody, now, knows where to find him...

Lying in mud? lying caked in mud, hair elfed into knots?
Some poor mad Tom roving the heath

for a warm soft place to lie his body down,
his speech obsessed with oaths, demons,

his tongue calling forth the Foul Fiend, Flibbertigibbet
as the horses back slowly, slowly into the crowd

and he eats filth, he crams his ravenous mouth with filth—
and then he sits on his stool in the trampled hay

and deep-rutted mud, he anoints himself
with ashes and clay, he puts on his crown

of fumiter weed and holds his scepter
of a smouldering poker and calls the court to order.


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Saturday, November 28, 2015

#OptOutside Day

For those who define themselves (or let corporate globalism define them) primarily as consumers, yesterday was Black Friday. For the rest of us it was #OptOutside Day. I'll admit we cheated a little. Our first outside excursion was to a Christmas tree farm where we "harvested" (reduced to possession would be more accurate) a Fraser Fir. On the way to acquire a tree, we stopped in Cambridge for coffee and one of our frequent explorations of Scout & Morgan's book selections, where I was delighted to find a copy of Joy Harjo's memoir Crazy Brave. (I'm claiming a small local business, indie bookstore exemption for this, plus my caffeine levels were dropping dangerously.)

Our real outing was late in the day, actually, early at night, to the Taylors Falls Lighting Festival. Nighttime photography of moving lights is close to impossible for an amateur like me, but I did better than last year. I'm following Samuel Beckett's advice/strategy: "Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better." It seems to be working and it give's me an out for my perfectionism.

luminaria and lighted trees
luminaria and lighted trees

tractor pulling a Christmas tree on a hay wagon
tractor pulling a Christmas tree on a hay wagon

Santa, Mrs. Claus and helper
Santa, Mrs. Claus and helper

What it says: Merry Christmas
What it says: "Merry Christmas"

May you and your true love(s) enjoy all the days of this season.

The Twelve Days of Christmas

By Anonymous 

The first day of Christmas,
My true love sent to me
A partridge in a pear tree.

The second day of Christmas,
My true love sent to me
Two turtle doves, and
A partridge in a pear tree.

The third day of Christmas,
My true love sent to me
Three French hens,
Two turtle doves, and
A partridge in a pear tree.

The fourth day of Christmas,
My true love sent to me
Four colly birds,
Three French hens,
Two turtle doves, and
A partridge in a pear tree.

The fifth day of Christmas,
My true love sent to me
Five gold rings,
Four colly birds,
Three French hens,
Two turtle doves, and
A partridge in a pear tree.

The sixth day of Christmas,
My true love sent to me
Six geese a-laying,
Five gold rings,
Four colly birds,
Three French hens,
Two turtle doves, and
A partridge in a pear tree.

The seventh day of Christmas,
My true love sent to me
Seven swans a-swimming,
Six geese a-laying,
Five gold rings,
Four colly birds,
Three French hens,
Two turtle doves, and
A partridge in a pear tree.

The eighth day of Christmas,
My true love sent to me
Eight maids a-milking,
Seven swans a-swimming,
Six geese a-laying,
Five gold rings,
Four colly birds,
Three French hens,
Two turtle doves, and
A partridge in a pear tree.

The ninth day of Christmas,
My true love sent to me
Nine drummers drumming,
Eight maids a-milking,
Seven swans a-swimming,
Six geese a-laying,
Five gold rings,
Four colly birds,
Three French hens,
Two turtle doves, and
A partridge in a pear tree.

The tenth day of Christmas,
My true love sent to me
Ten pipers piping,
Nine drummers drumming,
Eight maids a-milking,
Seven swans a-swimming,
Six geese a-laying,
Five gold rings,
Four colly birds,
Three French hens,
Two turtle doves, and
A partridge in a pear tree.

The eleventh day of Christmas
My true love sent to me
Eleven ladies dancing,
Ten pipers piping,
Nine drummers drumming,
Eight maids a-milking,
Seven swans a-swimming,
Six geese a-laying,
Five gold rings,
Four colly birds,
Three French hens,
Two turtle doves, and
A partridge in a pear tree.

The twelfth day of Christmas
My true love sent to me
Twelve fiddlers fiddling,
Eleven ladies dancing,
Ten pipers piping,
Nine drummers drumming,
Eight maids a-milking,
Seven swans a-swimming,
Six geese a-laying,
Five gold rings,
Four colly birds,
Three French hens,
Two turtle doves, and
A partridge in a pear tree.


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Friday, November 27, 2015

Reciprocating Thanksgiving

Everyone here has survived Thanksgiving. In fact, it was a pleasant and enjoyable meal shared with a few friends and relatives. Today's Christmas tree expedition has also been successful, although, from the parking lot at the tree farm, you'd have thought we were at a dollar day sale at Nordstrom's. The tree is up and lighted. Decorating will occur over the weekend. No animals were injured in the completion of these seasonal festivities except the turkey we had for dinner and the one writing this posting, who got punched in the nose by a gesticulating Daughter Person while she was acting foreperson on the tree installation. (Maybe I need to be belled like a cat or get cowboy boots and spurs to jingle-jangle.)

Ojibwe Wisdom Rug
Ojibwe Wisdom Rug (legend below)
Photo by J. Harrington

Yesterday's posting included excerpts and links from articles referring to various claims on a "first Thanksgiving." Several hours after the posting, while eating Thanksgiving dinner, it occurred to me that Thanksgiving, in the form of one harvest celebration or another, must have preceded the colonization of North America. A brief spell with the Internet and a search engine yielded Thanksgiving: A Harvest Festival with Roots in Sukkot and this quotation:
"While we cannot be certain about what motivated those Pilgrim settlers to initiate a feast of thanksgiving, it is likely that they consciously drew on a model well-known to them from the Bible they cherished. Seeing themselves as new Israelites in a new "promised land," the Pilgrims surely found inspiration in the Bible, in the Books of Leviticus and Deuteronomy, in which God commands the ancient Israelites to observe the Feast of Booths — in Hebrew, Sukkot, "to rejoice before Adonai your God" at the time of the fall harvest [Lev. 23:40]."

Ojibwe Wisdom Rug Legend
Ojibwe Wisdom Rug Legend
Photo by J. Harrington

Since Robin Wall Kimmerer, among other Native American writers, has taught me a little about the value to be placed on giving thanks to this earth on which we depend for life, and our need to give thanks for earth's gifts and provide reciprocity, I'm going to speculate, for now, that before Europeans "discovered" North America, giving thanks took place year-round and wasn't limited to a few days after the harvest was done. Wouldn't we be better people and live lives full of more meaning if we tried something like yeaar-round thanksgiving and also honored seven days a week instead of just one whoever we claim as our Higher Power or Great Spirit? The last I heard, reciprocity was a two-way street.

Eschatology

By Sandra McPherson 
I accompany this life’s events like a personal journalist:   
“Little did she know when she got in the car that afternoon ...”;
or “Despite inauspicious beginnings,
this was to be their happiest year.”

Little did I expect that our horoscopes would prove true.   
And how could we foresee an answer to
that frankly secular prayer, we with so little faith   
as to be false prophets to our most fortunate gifts.

I am glad when doom fails. Inept apocalypse
is a specialty of the times: the suffering of the rich
at the hand of riches; the second and third comings of wars.

Shouldn’t we refuse prediction
that the untried today is guilty, that immeasurable   
as this child’s hope is, it will break tomorrow?


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Thursday, November 26, 2015

Sustaining Thanksgiving

I remember being taught that "history is written by the victors," or something to that effect. Now, as with many things I was sure of when I was younger, I find the absolute truth of that dictum to be proven questionable, or the definition of "victors" has become as much a movable feast as Thanksgiving seems headed for. Here's what I learned about Thanksgiving by looking at today's Internet coverage. First is this article in today's the guardian:
"...Even the Plimoth Plantation, a recreation of a 17th-century Pilgrim village, acknowledges the claims of places in Florida, Maine and Virginia as well as Texas – which has a second contender dating back to 23 May 1541.

Not that any of them contribute to our understanding of why Americans are about to devour turkey, watch football and attend parades, as James W Baker wrote in his book, Thanksgiving: The Biography of an American Holiday.

“Each was technically a ‘thanksgiving,’ and each occurred before Plymouth Colony was founded in 1620,” he wrote. “But these claims were essentially irrelevant, as each was an isolated instance that had no connection with, or influence on, the future American holiday.”
Meleagris gallopavo, wild turkey
Meleagris gallopavo, wild turkey
Photo by J. Harrington

As a counter to that perspective, some? many? most? all? Native Americans have an understandably different view, like this one published in Native News Online:
The first “official” Day of Thanksgiving was held in 1637, when Governor John Winthrop called for a day of thanks following the massacre of more than 700 men, women and children from the Pequot Tribe. This massacre took place in Mystic, Connecticut, during the tribe’s Green Corn Festival. While tribal members slept, men from the Massachusetts Bay Colony crept into their camp. After tribal members had laid down their weapons, the colonists killed the men, burned the women and children in their dwellings and sold the rest into slavery. When they returned, Governor Winthrop called for an official day of Thanksgiving to celebrate their success. This event marks the beginning of a holocaust that lasted for centuries on this land, leading to the slaughter of millions of Indigenous peoples. This factual history contains countless acts of genocide that have continued into the modern day. This is why Indigenous people, and many of our friends and allies, recognize this day as a National Day of Mourning. This day of mourning is not just for the tragic events of the past, it is also for the ongoing suffering that our people continue to endure.
All of this makes me thankful that I live in Minnesota, where there's the bdote memory map as well as the "Healing Place". What I wish George Santayana had written is "Those who never learned the past are condemned to repeat it." We cannot remember what we have never had an opportunity to learn. Clearly, we haven't yet learned enough about working together. That's something we'll have to be thankful for on some future thanksgiving day. Meanwhile, why not reach out and share good food, warmth and love with family, friends and those who need it on this Thanksgiving Day.

One Home

By William E. Stafford
Mine was a Midwest home—you can keep your world.   
Plain black hats rode the thoughts that made our code.   
We sang hymns in the house; the roof was near God.

The light bulb that hung in the pantry made a wan light,   
but we could read by it the names of preserves—
outside, the buffalo grass, and the wind in the night.

A wildcat sprang at Grandpa on the Fourth of July   
when he was cutting plum bushes for fuel,
before Indians pulled the West over the edge of the sky.

To anyone who looked at us we said, “My friend”;   
liking the cut of a thought, we could say “Hello.”
(But plain black hats rode the thoughts that made our code.)

The sun was over our town; it was like a blade.   
Kicking cottonwood leaves we ran toward storms.   
Wherever we looked the land would hold us up.

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Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Happy Thanksgiving eve

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving for many of us. After Santa arrives at the end of the Macy's parade, we can turn on our Christmas lights without causing the punishment of elves. I'm looking forward to spending Black Friday getting a Christmas tree in the morning (not the same as really shopping in my universe) and taking photos of the Taylors Falls holiday lighting that evening. In between, if I have time, I'll visit, for free, one of our local state parks. I don't know who in the Dayton administration actually came up with the idea of making access free this Friday, but I think it's brilliant. Thank you very, very much to whomever! I'm grateful to you and to REI for their #OptOutside initiative.

Something else I'm grateful for this year is that I now have proof positive that my photography skills are slowly improving. The first photo of a "full moon" was taken two years ago; the second one, last night. Even an old curmudgeon like me has to admit there's a noticeable difference. I hope 2016 brings a comparable improvement to my writing.

full moon -- November 2013
full moon -- November 2013
Photo by J. Harrington

full moon -- November 2015
full moon -- November 2015
Photo by J. Harrington

May Thanksgiving, and the year ahead, bring all of us peace and warmth and loving companions (two and four footed) plus the awareness that life, by its very nature, is a win-win proposition, not a zero-sum game.

In Harvest

By Sophie Jewett 
Mown meadows skirt the standing wheat;   
I linger, for the hay is sweet,
New-cut and curing in the sun.
Like furrows, straight, the windrows run,   
Fallen, gallant ranks that tossed and bent   
When, yesterday, the west wind went   
A-rioting through grass and grain.   
To-day no least breath stirs the plain;   
Only the hot air, quivering, yields   
Illusive motion to the fields
Where not the slenderest tassel swings.   
Across the wheat flash sky-blue wings;   
A goldfinch dangles from a tall,   
Full-flowered yellow mullein; all
The world seems turning blue and gold.   
Unstartled, since, even from of old,   
Beauty has brought keen sense of her,   
I feel the withering grasses stir;   
Along the edges of the wheat,
I hear the rustle of her feet:
And yet I know the whole sea lies,   
And half the earth, between our eyes. 


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Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Season's swan song?

While walking one of the dogs yesterday, I thought I heard swans or geese or sandhill cranes. When I looked up and around, I couldn't see any flocks against the clear blue sky. They might have been above some of the cloud banks that were drifting through. The sounds were faint and erie, made me think of Ghost Riders in the Sky, although birds, no matter how large, aren't cows, what I heard sounded like the "Yippie ai aye" part of the lyrics. Last night's sky continued to carry clouds looking like Winter's harbinger riding a north-northwest wind.

harbingers of Winter's onset
harbingers of Winter's onset
Photo by J. Harrington

Today, on my way to do some errands, I noticed half a dozen, or eight, or so trumpeter swans on the Carlos Avery pools. I haven't seen any there for a number of weeks, so I suspect a southward migration, but not necessarily a grand passage, is underway . Waters north of us are starting to get ice covered and fields snow-covered, moving birds south toward still open water and accessible food sources. You already know that there are swans that Winter over on the lower St. Croix river, right?

Carlos Avery swans
Carlos Avery swans
Photo by J. Harrington

To One Who Has Been Long in City Pent

By John Keats 

To one who has been long in city pent,
         'Tis very sweet to look into the fair
         And open face of heaven,—to breathe a prayer
Full in the smile of the blue firmament.
Who is more happy, when, with heart's content,
         Fatigued he sinks into some pleasant lair
         Of wavy grass, and reads a debonair
And gentle tale of love and languishment?
Returning home at evening, with an ear
         Catching the notes of Philomel,—an eye
Watching the sailing cloudlet's bright career,
         He mourns that day so soon has glided by:
E'en like the passage of an angel's tear
         That falls through the clear ether silently. 


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Monday, November 23, 2015

Should a PolyMet Health Impact Assessment include Sustainable Mining Standards?

In past postings, My Minnesota has:
  1. Advocated that any mining done in Minnesota needs to be done "sustainably."
  2. Argued that the PolyMet project, and those financing and supporting it, do not appear to be committed to doing more than the legally required minimum on environmental issues, if that. (See the Timberjay's opinion that the PolyMet EIS is more a political than a scientific document.)
  3. Noted that many of the leading companies in the mining industry were working toward the development of an IRMA "Standard for Responsible Mining."
  4. "Suggested" that Minnesota would be wise to help develop the IRMA Standard and to make compliance with the Standard's elements a minimum requirement in mining and water quality permits.
northern Minnesota's future: mountains or mine tailings?
northern Minnesota's future: mountains or mine tailings?
Photo by J. Harrington

My Minnesota learned today that the first test of the (draft) Standard has been completed. "The primary purpose of this simulated audit was to reflect on the draft Standard and see if the requirements as written were clear, reasonable, auditable, and met their intent of protecting social and environmental values." One of the contributions Minnesota could make to the development of a final Standard is to go forward with the Health Impact Assessment on the PolyMet project and, as part of that effort, review any work completed on the Standard for Responsible Mining to see where and how much alignment there may be between Minnesota's Health Impact Assessment scoping and the content of the IRMA Standard.

The same email message that brought the information about the completion of an initial audit of the Standard, also contained this piece of news:

Tiffany & Co.’s Chairman makes case for mining and business responsibility

Mike Kowalski, founding member of the Steering Committee of IRMA and former CEO and current Chairman of the Board at Tiffany & Co., recently published an op-ed in the New York Times on the business case for an international, third-party certification process for industrial-scale mine sites. ["The conclusion we reached was inescapable: No amount of corporate profit or share price value could justify our participation, however indirectly, in the degradation of such indescribable beauty."]  He writes on the market demand for a program like IRMA that will offer assurance that mined materials are extracted and processed in a socially and environmentally responsible manner.
If Minnesota seriously wants to consider keeping industrial scale mining as part of its economic base, doesn't it need to insist such be done in accordance with "best practices?" We don't seem to be there yet but there doesn't seem to be anything but a lack of political will and a reluctance to miss delay some job opportunities keeping us from becoming a leader in making mining sustainable. Unless we panic and give away the ranch (mine?) so to speak, the minerals will still be there when the rest of the world, and commodity prices, support safe mining. Without the most stringent regulations, and their rigorous enforcement, we have too much at stake to make the risk worthwhile. I think every Minnesotan would give thanks if we collectively get this decision right.

To oversimplify things, we can decide there will be no more mining, unlikely but possible; or proceed with business as usual, which probably gives us more of the North Country Blues; or, we can realize that mining's value lies more in the process than in the product which leads us to The Thanksgivings.

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Sunday, November 22, 2015

Finding our way through the fog

late Autumn fog, St. Croix River
late Autumn fog, St. Croix River
Photo by J. Harrington

I'll spare you a long exposition about how much I admire Robert F. (Bobby) Kennedy, but it exceeds my veneration for and pride (as a fellow resident of Massachusetts) in his brother Jack as Sen. John F. Kennedy was elected president of these United States. I don't know how much Bobby was blessed with some of the best speech writers ever or how much he contributed himself, but many of his quotes offer me reassurance and hope in these times, just as I find his tour of eastern Kentucky resonates with many of the issues Minnesota faces in 2015. I hope you find both comfort and inspiration in his words and ideas.
"Every society gets the kind of criminal it deserves. What is equally true is that every community gets the kind of law enforcement it insists on."
"But suppose God is black? What if we go to Heaven and we, all our lives, have treated the Negro as an inferior, and God is there, and we look up and He is not white? What then is our response?"
"Ultimately, America's answer to the intolerant man is diversity, the very diversity which our heritage of religious freedom has inspired."
"All of us might wish at times that we lived in a more tranquil world, but we don't. And if our times are difficult and perplexing, so are they challenging and filled with opportunity."
Many of these quotations strike me as essentially being variations on another Senator's theme, that "We all do better when we all do better." I don't think it gets any more Minnesotan than that.

Fog Horns

By David Mason 
The loneliest days,   
damp and indistinct,   
sea and land a haze.   
   
And purple fog horns   
blossomed over tides—   
bruises being born   
   
in silence, so slow,   
so out there, around,   
above and below.   
   
In such hurts of sound   
the known world became   
neither flat nor round.   
   
The steaming tea pot   
was all we fathomed   
of   is and   is not .   
   
The hours were hallways   
with doors at the ends   
opened into days   
   
fading into night   
and the scattering   
particles of light.   
   
Nothing was done then.   
Nothing was ever   
done. Then it was done.


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Saturday, November 21, 2015

Fortunate sons (and daughters)

This Thanksgiving many of us will enjoy family gatherings around tables weighed down with lots of food. Some of us won't be that lucky because we're alone and/or poor. Too many of the poor and lonely did nothing more to deserve that fate than to be unlucky, born in the wrong place or the wrong time or both. On the other hand, too many of us with better fortunes think it's more important to err on the side of safety rather than compassion. We need to better remember our history. I'm not writing about Columbus here, but about the "Pilgrims." You know, those who came here seeking freedom to practice their religion free from persecution because they were "different."

wild turkey, almost America's symbol
wild turkey, almost America's symbol
Photo by J. Harrington

Too many of them, and those who followed, rewarded the welcome offered by North America's indigenous inhabitants, a welcome which we celebrate this Thursday, with fraud, genocide and attempts at enforced assimilation. If the Borg had existed in those days, they could have served as role models for many American settlers and the policies of the US government. Someone (George Santayana) much wiser than I once wrote "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." If Native Americans had responded to Pilgrims as too many of our politicians believe we want them to respond to today's "Pilgrims" from Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East, I doubt hardly any of us would be looking forward to this Thursday's celebrations. Perhaps, instead, having been born ourselves in Syria, or Iraq, or Afganistan, because that's where our parents, and their parents and ... were born, we'd find ourselves on the outside trying to get in.

Back in the days when I was younger and sure I knew everything worth knowing, I heard a American folk singer named Baez sing a Phil Ochs written song titled There but for Fortune. I remember those lyrics (and that voice) when I encounter, from the safety of my home in rural Minnesota, reports of terrorism in Paris and Mali, and, closer to home, reports of protests in Minneapolis over the police killing of an unarmed black man. I can do nothing about having been born a "Fortunate Son" because none of us have any choice or control over the circumstances of our birth. I have, fortunately for me, lots that I can do to support increased social and environmental justice in the U.S.A and especially in my adopted home of Minnesota. That's something I'll be grateful for this Thursday. How about you?

Bless Their Hearts

By Richard Newman 
At Steak ‘n Shake I learned that if you add
“Bless their hearts” after their names, you can say
whatever you want about them and it’s OK.
My son, bless his heart, is an idiot,

she said. He rents storage space for his kids’

toys—they’re only one and three years old!

I said, my father, bless his heart, has turned

into a sentimental old fool. He gets

weepy when he hears my daughter’s greeting
on our voice mail. Before our Steakburgers came
someone else blessed her office mate’s heart,
then, as an afterthought, the jealous hearts
of the entire anthropology department.
We bestowed blessings on many a heart
that day. I even blessed my ex-wife’s heart.
Our waiter, bless his heart, would not be getting
much tip, for which, no doubt, he’d bless our hearts.
In a week it would be Thanksgiving,
and we would each sit with our respective
families, counting our blessings and blessing
the hearts of family members as only family
does best. Oh, bless us all, yes, bless us, please
bless us and bless our crummy little hearts.


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Friday, November 20, 2015

Seasonal adjustments

Winter has fired a shot across our bow. Snow, 10" or so in some areas, is falling across southern and western Minnesota. Locally, skim ice has coated all the shallow, small ponds. Geese are rafting on ever larger lakes. Thanksgiving is less than a week away.

a bird's nest from the season past
a bird's nest from the season past
Photo by J. Harrington

Do you remember the line from "A Visit from St. Nicholas" about not even a mouse? I felt bad earlier this week when I cleaned out the bluebird houses and stirred some neighborhood mice. They had already settled down for a long Winter's nap. Then I removed the old bird nests they were nestled in and uncovered the poor creatures, one in the front house, two out back, causing them to stir frantically.

a mouse in the (bird) house
a mouse in the (bird) house
Photo by J. Harrington

I sincerely hope they got themselves settled in someplace almost as good as the birdless bluebird houses, as long as it's not our house. On a good day I'll relocated a spider or a bug, but I draw a line at rodents that are only too ready to return to the food and warmth of our hearth. Wendell Berry has a warm and wonderful story about a whitefooted mouse and her own disrupted hearth. My inadvertent disturbance of the inhabitants in the bird houses, many of this week's news stories and Berry's story of Whitefoot remind me to be grateful that so far I've been successful at staying alive so I can enjoy the seasonal change, Thanksgiving's shared joys, and the company I share with family, friends, and nonhuman people. As often happens with poets, Robert Frost brings a different perspective on this time of year. If you'll excuse me for now, I'm going to work on a letter to Santa while you read Frost's poem. Think about whether you'd cast me as a letter writer or one of Santa's helpers working on an answer?



My November Guest




My Sorrow, when she’s here with me,
     Thinks these dark days of autumn rain
Are beautiful as days can be;
She loves the bare, the withered tree;
     She walks the sodden pasture lane.

Her pleasure will not let me stay.
     She talks and I am fain to list:
She’s glad the birds are gone away,
She’s glad her simple worsted gray
     Is silver now with clinging mist.

The desolate, deserted trees,
     The faded earth, the heavy sky,
The beauties she so truly sees,
She thinks I have no eye for these,
     And vexes me for reason why.

Not yesterday I learned to know
     The love of bare November days
Before the coming of the snow,
But it were vain to tell her so,
     And they are better for her praise.


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Thursday, November 19, 2015

Will the Iron Range be going in circles?

The Timberjay has a very worthwhile read on competing visions for the future of northern Minnesota. It prompted me to do a little checking on the context for those future visions, particularly regarding what to expect for future demand of metals mining. Fortunately, McKinsey & Co., "the trusted advisor and counselor to many of the world's most influential businesses and institutions," has a relatively recent (2013) report on Resource Revolution: Tracking global commodity markets, in which they write about:
"transport sector" headed for Duluth
"transport sector" headed for Duluth
Photo by J. Harrington

Disruptive demand-side technologies and recycling. There is a large opportunity to curtail future demand for metals through technology that increases the efficiency with which we use metals, and through increased recycling. Past McKinsey research has found potential to address up to 13 percent of 2030 steel demand through, for example, higher use of high- strength steel.51 Even more impact on demand could be achieved through the adoption of the “circular economy” concept that aims to reduce, re-use, and recycle resources. A circular economy is an industrial system that is restorative or regenerative by intention and design. It replaces the “end-of-life” concept with restoration; shifts toward the use of renewable energy; eliminates the use of toxic chemicals, which impair re-use; and aims for the elimination of waste through the superior design of materials, products, systems, and within this, business models.52 Take the example of washing machines. Over a 20-year period, replacing the purchase of five 2,000-cycle machines with the lease of one 10,000-cycle machine would also yield almost 180 kilograms of steel savings. In total, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation estimates that more than 100 million tons of iron ore use could be avoided by 2025 if the circular economy were to be broadly applied in the steel-intensive automotive, machining, and other transport sectors that account for about 40 percent of demand. The opportunity to boost recycling is significant. Strong demand for metals over the past decade that has led to high resource prices means that a significant amount of scrap metal is available. Recycling of precious metals has more than doubled since 2005.53 [emphasis added]
When I think about the number of times I've encountered a reference to a "new normal," and I anticipate the rock (business as usual) and the hard place (transition to a low carbon economy) and see more and more reports on what it will cost if we don't monumentally reduce iur greenhouse gas emisions and fossil fuel consumption, I see increasingly greater likelihood we'll have a circular economy to go with our renewable energy future. I don't think that combination bodes particularly well for the recovery of iron mining or the economic future of copper mining in Minnesota. McKinsey offers these insights on the environmental implications of future mining:
Incorporating environmental externalities. The mining industry could face increasing pressure from regulators to pay for inputs such as carbon and water that are currently largely un-priced. A carbon price would have the most direct impact on coal producers (discussed in the energy section of this survey) but would also have an indirect impact on other operators through increases in the cost of energy inputs. Pricing water could have a dramatic impact on costs—and constrain output—given that 32 percent of copper mines and 39 percent of iron ore mines are in areas of moderate to high water scarcity, according to Trucost. Analysis by McKinsey and Trucost shows that pricing water to reflect its “shadow cost” (i.e., the economic value of the water if put to its best alternative use) could increase iron ore costs by 3.3 percent across the industry. A price of $30 per tonne of carbon emissions could increase the cost of iron ore by 2.5 percent. Goldman Sachs has estimated that a hypothetical $10 per tonne carbon tax would have reduced profits of mining companies by around 2 percent in 2011.50 In water-scarce regions, some operators could face increased costs of up to 16 percent from the combined costs of water and carbon emissions.
Grand Marais harbor
Grand Marais harbor
Photo by J. Harrington

It seems to me that too many who support hard rock mining and anticipate the "return" of taconite mining are missing the point that the Iron Range may well have lost much of its competitive advantage of selling to nearby markets. From what I read, there are much larger, less expensive mines being developed and the prospect that mining at Minnesota's scale can be successful in a global market looks questionable to me. Minnesota's Eighth District congressman recognizes the added dangers that a TransPacific Partnership trade agreement would impose on northern Minnesota's mining sector, but a Democratic president and a Republican congress may not care. How many times do we need to hear the lyrics to North Country Blues before the message starts to sink in? Increased costs, increased regulation and increased reuse don't offer much in the way of a bright, shiny future for ore-based metal commodity market growth, do they?

Urban Affection

By Emanuel Xavier
for Walt Whitman 
Besides the obvious technological and architectural advances, only one thing has really changed between our generations:
We now live in an America where blacks are not only allowed the right to vote but can become the Redeemer President of the United States
Otherwise, we still live in an America where the audacity to openly enjoy the pleasures of sex and being respected for wisdom are contradictions without reconciliation
We still live in an America where the economy collapses while the masses are consumed with preventing the rights of anyone with a fancy for anything out of the ordinary
We still live in an America where rotting leaves, tufts of straw, and debris are found in more homes than poetry books
We still live in an America where Christ and Dracula provide both excitement and fear for restless lives longing for a simple touch
We still live in an America where the impact of urbanization reaches out to the common person more than the obscene nature of poetry
We still live in an America where writing about prostitution is considered trashy and profane
We still live in an America where poets have to work while publishing to survive financial difficulty unless they are fashioned like Shakespeare
We still live in an America where, unless you belong to a church, you are a religious skeptic believing in nothing
We still live in an America where overt sexuality, siding with the barnburners, and authoring disreputable books limit poets to a vagabond lifestyle
We still live in an America where breaking tradition and the boundaries of poetic form are considered the trademarks of a pretentious ass
We still live in an America where everything from thieves to dwarfs to fog to beetles deserve validity
We still live in an America where books cannot prevent war and the sick and wounded need healing
We still live in an America where not everyone can appreciate the beauty of immigration, crowded streets, brutal differences, urban affection
We still live in an America where the same sun that once invigorated your passion continues to provide us with the beauty of life worth fighting for
We still live in an America where America still lives in us
  

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Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Don't eat the fish or drink the water for how long?

The good news is Governor Dayton is considering responding affirmatively to a request by a number of health professionals to have a health impact assessment done for the proposed PolyMet project. The bad news is the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, a lead agency responsible for mine permitting and the preparation of the Environmental Impact Statement has
"said it had reviewed the risks, but found no significant potential health impacts. Doing a broader review would delay completion of the final document, and would not “significantly inform the regulatory permits required for the project,” the authors of the EIS said."
Lake Superior's North Shore
Lake Superior's North Shore
Photo by J. Harrington

I don't know about you, but when it comes to health matters, especially public but including environmental health, I'd lean toward accepting the judgement of
"the Minnesota Nurses Association, Minnesota Public Health Association, Minnesota Medical Association, and others in public health have urged the state to include a human health assessment as part of the massive environmental impact analysis of the mine. In his public comment issued a year and a half ago, Ehlinger asked the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to complete a separate review of health risks, and officials from the two state agencies discussed it earlier this year as well."
Their concerns are consistent with and supported by a recently published natural history of Minnesota's North Shore, as can be seen in the following excerpts:

"North Shore", front cover

"Take, for example, the boom in exploration for nonferrous metallic minerals such as copper and nickel and precious metals such as gold, palladium, and platinum in both the U.S. and Canadian territories of the Lake Superior watershed. This includes the vast Duluth Complex, a massive bedrock formation arcing from Duluth to Grand Portage in northeastern Minnesota. These kinds of mining operations require large-scale conversions of land (in some cases more than a thousand acres) for both the ore mining and waste disposal. When exposed to air and water, the enormous volumes of waste rock generate toxic effluent laced with heavy metals that must be contained and managed for many generations. As demonstrated in countless examples from around the world, such mines have, without exception, contaminated ground and surface waters with pollutants that are lethal to aquatic and terrestrial life and pose a serious health risk to humans...." [emphasis added]

"Brook trout provide us with a yardstick for measuring the health of our waters and the wholeness of our land. As such, they present us with a dilemma, as well as a choice. The observations that writer Steve Grooms made about the efforts to restore native lake trout to the waters of the lower Great Lakes could just as easily apply to the efforts to rehabilitate coaster brook trout in the Lake Superior watershed. 'The issue,' he says in an article for Trout magazine, 'is whether managers should continue trying to restore an ecosystem destroyed by centuries of abuse, or whether they should accept the loss of some ecological integrity as a fait accompli and do the best job of managing what's left for human benefit.'"

"In other words, how accustomed have we become to the idea of extinctions?"
To take these issues a step or two further, MNDNR is faced with unreasonable and unrealistic conflicts of interest trying to both protect the environment and support mining as a revenue stream. But, take a look at the economic values associated with recreation, as noted in The Value of Nature’s Benefits in the St. Louis River Watershed
According to a survey administered in 2007 through 2008, almost six million tourists visited the northeast region of Minnesota (Minnesota DNR, 2008a). One quarter of all travelers’ expenditures (almost $400 million) were associated with recreational activities. This sum was higher than all other categories of expenditures made by visitors. User spending amounted to $628 million in 2008, and the total size of the regional trail economy was found to be $27.8 billion.
How much decline in the recreational revenue stream should we anticipate if the permits aren't rigorous enough or enforced adequately because we don't want to risk losing "new" mining jobs? When the environment continues to decline under mining's assault on resources that we should all be able to enjoy, Minnesota will continue to be faced with a number of questions, the answers to which will affect the state's public health and economic health for generations to come. Quickly getting to permitting decisions shouldn't be our highest priority. We need to get this right, and doing the same old, same old, business as usual, including forestalling those with known expertise from full participation, isn't the way to get it right.

To a Marsh Hawk in Spring

By Henry David Thoreau 

There is health in thy gray wing,
Health of nature’s furnishing.
Say, thou modern-winged antique,
Was thy mistress ever sick?
In each heaving of thy wing
Thou dost health and leisure bring,
Thou dost waive disease and pain
And resume new life again. 


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Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Support business (Downstream and up) good for our environment

I've been a member of Trout Unlimited [TU] longer than I've lived in Minnesota. Yesterday, as I was doing some tidying around the house, I took a break and started browsing through the Spring 2015 issue of Trout, TU's magazine, "when what to my wondering eyes should appear" but a story on America's Most Trout (and Salmon) Friendly Companies." I expected to find Orvis near the top of the list, and it was. I sure as hell didn't expect to find a handful of mining companies being praised by an organization whose mission is "to conserve, protect and restore North America's coldwater fisheries and their watersheds," but there they were.
  • "...Tiffany [& Co] is famed among the fishes for investing millions of dollars into helping clean up abandoned mines." "When the EPA announced its decision to use its authority under the Clean Water Act to protect Bristol Bay from the Pebble Mine, Tiffany & Co. ran full-page advertisements in the Washington Post, San Francisco Chronicle and Seattle Times, underscoring its support of that decision.
    "We know there will be other gold and copper mines to develop. But we will never find a more majestic and productive place than Bristol Bay."

  • "Freeport-McMoRan is likely the world's largest mining company, and it has had its issues with pollution. But when Freeport's CEO, Richard Adkerson, learned of TU's work to clean up abandoned mines in the West, he and his team made a three-year commitment that will allow us [TU], for the first time to perhaps recover a native trout species that had been extirpated by historic mining in southwestern Colorado."

  • "Phosphate mining companies aren't top of mind when it comes to native fish restoration, but The J.R. Simplot Company and two other phosphate-mining companies are working with TU to help recover Yellowstone cutthroat trout in the Blackfoot River in Idaho." (Not the same Blackfoot River as the one in Montana made famous in A River Runs Through It.)
St. Louis River -- majestic enough for you?
St. Louis River -- majestic enough for you?
Photo by J. Harrington

Obviously, from TU's perspective, not all mines and not all mining companies are evil. I feel the same way, but I'm terribly disappointed that those involved with PolyMet, nor, as far as I can see, those who support its development, are listed by TU. That list, by the way, isn't limited to large, highly profitable companies, just as Minnesota's own Downstream Business Coalition is comprised of local small businesses who recognize that we all have a stake in and depend on an unpolluted, quality environment. I'm going to make it a point to support as many of those businesses as I can, because I too recognize that we're all in this together.

St. Louis River estuary -- Duluth harbor
St. Louis River estuary -- Duluth harbor
Photo by J. Harrington

TU's story ends with these words "... we hope you take time to understand and appreciate how some of the rods you cast, boots you wear in the water and other things you use to catch fish, have an awful lot to do with making sure those fish are there to catch in the first place." The number of businesses that support conservation organizations is growing. It's up to those of us who care about our environment to support businesses who share our values and walk the conservation talk. If such businesses don't succeed, they can't help us conserve, protect and restore the only world we have.

On the highly unlikely chance that Governor Dayton will ever read this, or the slightly less improbable chance someone might call it to his attention, please, Governor, especially note what Tiffany & Co. wrote about Pebble Bay. Are the Boundary Waters and the St. Louis River and their watersheds any less worthy of protection? Aren't they as majestic and locally productive as Bristol Bay? If not them, then what in Minnesota would be?

Famous

By Naomi Shihab Nye 
The river is famous to the fish.

The loud voice is famous to silence,   
which knew it would inherit the earth   
before anybody said so.   

The cat sleeping on the fence is famous to the birds   
watching him from the birdhouse.   

The tear is famous, briefly, to the cheek.   

The idea you carry close to your bosom   
is famous to your bosom.   

The boot is famous to the earth,   
more famous than the dress shoe,   
which is famous only to floors.

The bent photograph is famous to the one who carries it   
and not at all famous to the one who is pictured.   

I want to be famous to shuffling men   
who smile while crossing streets,   
sticky children in grocery lines,   
famous as the one who smiled back.

I want to be famous in the way a pulley is famous,   
or a buttonhole, not because it did anything spectacular,   
but because it never forgot what it could do.


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