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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