Monday, April 4, 2016

Responsible mining? Where?

Today I had been planning on writing, belatedly, about April's trout fly hatches and wildflower bloomings, but I can't bring myself to do that with a temperature of 30F and snowflakes drifting by the window. Based on the weather forecast, Wednesday looks promising. For now, let's revisit some questions about mining and its effects on water quality and other environmental concerns.

mercury contaminated St. Louis River
Photo by J. Harrington

To begin, please consider who you're going to believe, Walter Mondale, former Vice President of the US, or Frank Ongaro, Executive Director of Mining Minnesota? The former has a recent opinion piece in the Star Tribune urging closure to mining of all federal lands within the Boundary Waters watershed. The latter's response, published today, refers to protection of a unique area as a "draconian federal land grab." He then makes statements that imply the positions of our US senators support exploration and mining, including this: "Sen. Franken has noted that “we already have strong state and federal standards in place.”"

With all due respect to Senator Franken, do our strong state and federal standards compare well with those outlined in the Initiative for Responible Mining Standard? Why is the public still being faced with environmental devastation or massive taxpayer-funded clean up costs in the order of $35 billion for historic mines? And, I hope Senator Klobuchar has considered how much of an economic loss northern Minnesota could suffer from the impacts of mining in the BWCA watershed if eco-tourism and related income sources disappear. IRMA Standards begin to address some of these and Minnesota's concerns. Here's IRMA's

Principle 3—Environmental Responsibility

INTENT:  Operating companies engage with stakeholders to ensure that mining is planned and carried out in a manner that maintains or enhances environmental values, and avoids or minimizes impacts to the environment and communities.
  • Chapter 3.1—Water Quality:  To protect water quality and minimize off-site impacts to the environment and other water uses through the adoption of leading water management strategies and practices throughout the full mine life cycle.
     
  • Chapter 3.2—Water Quantity:  To maximize efficiency of water-use and minimize off-site impacts to the environment through the adoption of leading water management strategies and practices throughout the full mine life cycle.
     
  • Chapter 3.3—Mine Waste Management:  To eliminate off-site contamination, minimize short- and long-term risks to communities and the environment, and protect future land uses.
     
  • Chapter 3.4—Air Quality:  To protect and maintain pre-mine air quality conditions.
     
  • Chapter 3.5—Noise:  To preserve the amenity or health and well-being of nearby noise receptors, properties, and communities.
     
  • Chapter 3.6—Greenhouse Gas Emissions:  To minimize climate change impacts through increased energy efficiency, reduced energy consumption, and reduced emissions of greenhouse gases.
     
  • Chapter 3.7—Protected Areas:  To respect, support and strengthen the effectiveness of legally designated protected areas.
     
  • Chapter 3.8—Biodiversity Outside Officially Protected Areas:  To avoid contributing to the global loss of biodiversity.
     
  • Chapter 3.9—Cyanide:  To protect human health and the environment through the responsible management of cyanide.
     
  • Chapter 3.10—Mercury Management:  To protect human health and the environment through the responsible management of mercury.

Governor Dayton has wisely noted that global mining companies play off one site against others. One way to help level that playing field, and provide additional assurance that future mining in Minnesota has optimum benefits and minimum negative effects would be to compare federal and state project review and approval criteria with the content of the IRMA standards for certification plus consider the relationship between mining and the United Nation's Sustainable Development Goals. We will continue to need mined materials. Those materials will have to be secured and processed sustainably or mining will lose it's social license from companies concerned with having a green supply chain. Within the past week, I've see an assertion by Governor Dayton to the effect that ... in the tens and dozens of permits and reviews required, none address the question "Is this project good for Minnesota?" That's the question we need answered about PolyMet, Twin Metals, and any other mining project that may be proposed in the future. If a project is good for Minnesota, it should produce materials that meet the needs of leading international companies. I grew up in a neighborhood that liked to point out "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me." Copper mining has already fooled enough people in enough places that we in Minnesota should have learned to not be fooled again. We need to go beyond permitting and financial assurance requirements and ensure that whatever we permit is good for our citizens and our environment and a sustainable future for Minnesota.

The Outstretched Earth

By Jane Mead

Do you know what whole fields are?
They are fields with a dog and a moon.
Do you know the answer — for the many?

Except there would be vineyards.
Meaning there would, as usual, be commerce.
Money, and a game of sorts to play it.

Meanwhile — Emma lost in the cover-crop.
Top of her head bobbing through mustard-flower.
It is, after all, still here — 

The real world, the outstretched earth,
Rain, soil, copper for pennies.


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