Sunday, December 13, 2015

Can PolyMet mine Minnesota sustainably?

It's a little more than a week until the Winter Solstice, for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere. South of the Equator they'll be celebrating the Summer Solstice. For us Northerners, the days will slowly, very slowly, start to lengthen. 'Way down South, they'll start to shorten. Maybe we should add Solstices and Equinoxes to Death and Taxes on the short list of things we can count on not changing.

Minnesota's Sawtooth Mountains
Minnesota's Sawtooth Mountains
Photo by J. Harrington

This weather is certainly a change from "normal," but then so was the recent adoption of the Paris Climate Agreement after 20+ years of failure to reach agreement. Change has been going on for a very long time. I recently read that, right here in Minnesota, Christmas in the past was not well kept:
  • "... by far the greatest majority do not observe it at all, but go on with their ordinary evocations -- buying, selling, etc."
    [The Daily Minnesotan, St. Paul, Minnesota, December 25, 1857]

  • "These holidays, which are so much celebrated and so looked forward to by the young people in Sweden, are not much observed in America..."
    [Letters from the Promised Land, December 14, 1879]
Each of the preceding quotations can be found in the "Keeping Christmas" section of a Minnesota Christmas anthology. I was more than a little unpleasantly surprised to encounter them. I had thought that folks like Ebenezer Scrooge were a distinct minority limited to Dickens' London. Apparently not. On the other hand, the agreement on climate change actually shocked me in a very pleasant way. Western Civilization may be attainable, maybe through efforts like the Paris agreements and the United Nation's Sustainable Development Goals.

I can only believe that the ghosts of civilization past, present, and yet to come must have been busy visiting diplomats in Paris during the past week or so. I hope they're not too worn out to visit Governor Dayton and give him a good look at what a northern Minnesota yet to come would be like if he lets the PolyMet project be permitted based on the current FEIS. On the other hand, some smart folks are working on how mining can support the UN sustainable development goals. A draft summary of their thinking is available now, the full paper supposedly next month.

If Minnesota is convinced that sulfate mining must be allowed, even though it can negatively affect the Boundary Waters and/or the St. Louis River and Duluth's economy, the the governor believes PolyMet provides essential jobs, I think Minnesotans are entitled to the most sustainable mining possible. We won't get that with permitting as usual. Even the Iron Range delegation has tried to make mining more sustainable with this legislation. Add in the work currently being done at MIT and the SDGs from the UN and we might have something to work with. Maybe, if Governor Dayton feels absolutely compelled to allow PolyMet (and I hope he doesn't), he could wrap it in a meaningful improvement to SF 2632 and tie a bow around it. If Minnesota can learn to "keep Christmas," maybe we can also learn to keep our environment, else we get coal in our stockings and tailings in our environment.

Things keep sorting themselves.

By Jane Hirshfield 

Does the butterfat know it is butterfat,
milk know it’s milk?
No.
Something just goes and something remains.

Like a boardinghouse table:
men on one side, women on the other.
Nobody planned it.

Plaid shirts next to one another,
talking in accents from the Midwest.

Nobody plans to be a ghost.

Later on, the young people sit in the kitchen.

Soon enough, they’ll be the ones
to stumble Excuse me and quickly withdraw.
But they don’t know that.
No one can ever know that.


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