Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Make mining in Minnesota more sustainable

Do you remember the saying, attributed to Benjamin Franklin, "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure"? It seems to have been missed, for decades or more, by the mining industry and those responsible for regulating it. According to Trout Unlimited, "There are over 500,000 abandoned hardrock mine sites in the American West where there is no responsible party to take on the cleanup." Clean up of abandoned mine sites is hindered by a lack of "Good Samaritan" legislation. We like the concept but wonder if, absent some additional provisions, good samaritan legislation for mine clean up might not be equivalent to enabling behavior.

St. Louis River, downstream from proposed PolyMet project
St. Louis River, downstream from proposed PolyMet project
Photo by J. Harrington

Today's Star Tribune has a wonderful opinion piece by Minnesota state senator John Marty. The PolyMet proposal: Where compromise can be found in an otherwise catastrophic plan. He notes that
PolyMet’s unwillingness to use best practices might come from its biggest investor — Glencore, the multinational mining company that will receive the first profits from the mine. The chairman of Glencore, Tony Hayward, was the chief executive at BP who was widely condemned for his poor management of the massive Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Does Minnesota want Hayward’s current company to make huge profits at the expense of Minnesota’s environment?
And yet, Glencore is a full member of the Mining Association of Canada [MAC], the organization that's developed a set of best practices called Toward Sustainable Mining [TSM], which are mandatory for MAC members. If it's good enough for Glencore in Canada, why shouldn't it be good enough for Glencore in Minnesota?

We think that a broader question centers around whether Good Samaritan legislation must be combined with a requirement that any permit to mine include provisions that permittee be in full compliance with a Minnesota version of TSM, or the provisions of the Initiative for Responsible Mining Assurance, or a comparable third party-certified and performance audited set of documented best practices.

Senator Marty could take further steps to support Minnesota's mining sector by introducing legislation that not only integrates compliance with best practices with a state permit to mine, but also mandates that a significant portion of metals used in state-funded projects be sourced from recycling or from certified sources. We think that's called transforming the market. It's past time Minnesota does that. On a broader scale, it would put Minnesota in the donut economy. Every day it becomes more clear to us that that's where we need to be.

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