Sunday, June 30, 2019

Should mining be governed by international or regional standards?

Mining is clearly an international business that has contributed jobs to the economies and pollution to  the environment of Minnesota and several other Great Lakes States. Historical results frame the issue as one of jobs or the environment. This continues to be the situation in many countries less economically developed than the U.S. or Canada. North America's environmental regulations, however, are fragmented and have had limited success in moving the metals and mining sector toward responsible mining and sustainable development. Over the past few decades, however, as we've noted elsewhere in this series, international efforts to make development sustainable and to include the mining sector in that effort have occurred. One of the more holistic approaches has been followed by the United Nations, a major international player.

UN Sustainable Development Goals

The United Nations has adopted 17 Sustainable Development Goals. With a specific focus on the mining sector, it has fostered the preparation of the report: Mapping Mining to the Sustainable Development Goals: An Atlas.
The Atlas maps the relationship between mining and the SDGs by using examples of good practice in the industry and existing knowledge and resources in sustainable development that if replicated or scaled up could make useful contributions to the SDGs. Mining companies, their staff, management and boards are the primary audience for the Atlas. The Atlas is also intended to advance the conversation about how mining companies, can work collaboratively with governments, communities, civil society and other partners to contribute to achieve the SDGs.
In some ways even more relevant to Minnesota and the Great Lakes region, the United Nations has crafted a multi-year strategy, the UN Global Compact, to drive business awareness and action in support of achieving the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030 . One aspect of the compact is The CEO Water Mandate, which has, as of this writing, almost 150 business signatories, including a handful from the metals and mining sector. Unfortunately, neither Glencore/PolyMet nor Antofagasta/Twin Metals are listed as having signed that Mandate.
The Mandate is a commitment platform for business leaders and learners to advance water stewardship. Endorsing companies commit to action across six key elements and report annually on progress. In implementing water stewardship, endorsing companies also  identify and reduce critical water risks to their businesses, seize water-related opportunities, and contribute to water security and the Sustainable Development Goals.
Either or both Glencore/Polymet or Antofagasta/Twin Metals could add credibility to their claims of responsible mining and development if they actually walked their talk. Instead, what we see are behaviors based on compliance with watered-down environmental and financial requirements imposed by the state's permitting agencies. Compliance is not a valid substitute for ethical corporate behavior. Conversely, while it's possible we've missed something significant, we've seen no indication Minnesota has given thought to or been engaged in any of the activities that could offer substantial contributions to help protect both the state's economy and its environment. Inaction or inept action won't get us there. Sitting on laurels for too long may result in an uncomfortable rash.

These are the last two stanzas of the poem we've picked to complement this series. It's a long poem but, we believe, fits really well with the theme we've developed. If we truly want a future with both good jobs and a healthy, sustainable environment, conflict resolution offers a more productive strategy than does continuing conflict. we hope you concur.

Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings

By Joy Harjo


A panther poised in the cypress tree about to jump is a panther poised in a cypress tree about to jump.

The panther is a poem of fire green eyes and a heart charged by four winds of four directions.

The panther hears everything in the dark: the unspoken tears of a few hundred human years, storms that will break what has broken his world, a bluebird swaying on a branch a few miles away.

He hears the death song of his approaching prey:

I will always love you, sunrise.
I belong to the black cat with fire green eyes.
There, in the cypress tree near the morning star.


When we made it back home, back over those curved roads
that wind through the city of peace, we stopped at the
doorway of dusk as it opened to our homelands.
We gave thanks for the story, for all parts of the story
because it was by the light of those challenges we knew
We asked for forgiveness.
We laid down our burdens next to each other.

Thanks for visiting. Come again when you can.
Please be kind to each other while you can.

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Could PolyMet/Northmet be third-party certified as a Responsible Mine?

Back in the days before we became a recovering planner, we met a number of residents and officials of various units of local government, particularly townships and counties, who had been sure that they didn't need zoning, or their ordinance didn't need to cover certain uses, until it did. Sometimes, then, it was too late. They were faced with the proverbial need to lock a barn door after the horse was inside.

What started us thinking about these situations was a paragraph we reread in The Meaning of Wilderness: essential articles and speeches / Sigurd F. Olson. On page 56 we find the following:
The only hope of preserving a few remnants of the old wilderness ... is to work out a comprehensive zoning plan in which the entire country will be classified as to the type of recreational land use it is best suited for.
Olson was advocating to prevent overflights and/or, especially, aviation access to the Boundary Waters and similar areas. His concept, it seems to us, is sound but has, to our knowledge, lain dormant, to the detriment of those who would protect the wilderness from extractive industries.

does anything protect Minnesota's Sawtooths from mountaintop removal mining?
does anything protect Minnesota's Sawtooths from mountaintop removal mining?
Photo by J. Harrington

Here's a challenge! See if you can find out what zoning, if any, applies to the site(s) of the PolyMet / NorthMet project or the Twin Metals location. Are there setback requirements from wetlands, streams, rivers or contiguous properties? To provide a sense of what you're looking for, follow the link to an online version of a Minnesota Model Mining Ordinance prepared under the auspices of the Saint Croix River Association. We believe it was developed in anticipation of a proposed sand and gravel operation near the Wild and Scenic River.

The significance of national, state and local designations of recreational areas, and the land use controls that govern them and surrounding areas (buffers) becomes particularly relevant in the case of responsible and sustainable mining operations. One of the standards we haven't yet mentioned in this series of posts is from the Initiative for Responsible Mining Assurance [IRMA]. It explicitly states that: IRMA will not certify new mines that are developed in or that adversely affect the following protected areas if those areas were designated to protect cultural values (see also Chapter 4.6):193
• World Heritage Sites, and areas on a State Party’s official Tentative List for World Heritage Site Inscription;
• International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) protected area management categories I-III; and
• Core areas of UNESCO biosphere reserves. An existing mine located entirely or partially in a protected area listed in shall demonstrate that:
a. The mine was developed prior to the area’s official designation;
b. Management plans have been developed and are being implemented to ensure that activities during the remaining mine life cycle will not permanently and materially damage the integrity of the cultural values for which the area was designated or recognized; and
c. The operating company collaborates with relevant management authorities to integrate the mine’s management strategies into the protected area’s management plan. To safeguard irreplaceable cultural heritage and respect indigenous peoples’ right to self- determination, the operating company shall not carry out new exploration or develop new mines in areas where indigenous peoples are known to live in voluntary isolation.
For our purposes, the IUCN provision is particularly relevant, since we believe the Boundary Waters falls into one of the categories, or at least qualifies for inclusion. Our major point today, however, is that there are a number of established protective strategies and techniques that could be used to both improve the environmental performance of mining operations in Minnesota, and make them more acceptable neighbors. This would, or at least should, enhance their ability to obtain the "social license" needed to get mining and environmental permits. Why are not more of the actors in Minnesota's economic development and environmental protection sectors doing more about this. Wouldn't it be a more productive way to protect both jobs and the environment than to engage in a never-ending series of public relations, legislative and court battles over each and every mine proposal? PolyMet NorthMet claims they are "Committed to Responsible Mining." If they are serious about that, they can apply for certification.

We're going to share the usual poem we put here one stanza at a time. It's a long poem but, we believe, fits really well with the theme we're developing.

Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings

By Joy Harjo


I could hear the light beings as they entered every cell. Every cell is a house of the god of light, they said. I could hear the spirits who love us stomp dancing. They were dancing as if they were here, and then another level of here, and then another, until the whole earth and sky was dancing.

We are here dancing, they said. There was no there.

There was no  "I"  or "you."

There was us; there was "we."

There we were as if we were the music.

You cannot legislate music to lockstep nor can you legislate the spirit of the music to stop at political boundaries—

—Or poetry, or art, or anything that is of value or matters in this world, and the next worlds.

This is about getting to know each other.

We will wind up back at the blues standing on the edge of the flatted fifth about to jump into a fierce understanding together.

Thanks for visiting. Come again when you can.
Please be kind to each other while you can.

Friday, June 28, 2019

Recommendations for "Responsible Mining in the Lake Superior Basin"

Less than a decade ago, there was an organization called the Lake Superior Binational Forum (Lake Superior Binational Forum Funding Has Been Eliminated by US EPA). In 2013 it drafted a statement on Responsible Mining in the Lake Superior Basin which contains
... recommendations for future mining operations, briefly summarized as follows:

1. Develop a common set of criteria for use by governments, NGOs and industry to guide the permitting process. Currently public agencies use different criteria in each state.

2. Avoid mining in places with high environmental or social/cultural value.

3. Improve public participation by stakeholders in the environmental assessment process through the collection of adequate baseline data; consideration of potential worst-case scenarios; and independent third-party review processes.

4. Water quality objectives that are consistent with the LAMP should be developed.

5. Overburden and tailings should be discharged into water bodies or wetlands; acid-generating materials should be segregated; and hazardous materials plans should be made public.

6. Companies should make atmospheric emission reports. Environmental assessments should consider greenhouse gas emissions from mining operations.

7. Companies should set aside financial resources for the exploration phase to cover clean-ups, reclamation and long-term monitoring. The public should have the right to comment on the adequacy of these resources and reclamation activities.

8. The public should have the right to access monitoring and periodic technical reports during the life of the mining operation; and to do independent third-party review of the process.

9. Companies should have a reclamation plan with resources set aside for each operation. Mined areas should be re-contoured and stabilized.

10. Citizen participation and oversight are important elements listed under “social impacts and decision making,” including the engagement of Tribal Nations, First Nations and Metis.

11. Research is needed on the cumulative and indirect effects of mining; climate change and mining impacts; and human health research, including impacts on people, fish and wild rice.
overlooking the St. Louis River entering Duluth Harbor and Lake Superior
overlooking the St. Louis River entering Duluth Harbor and Lake Superior
Photo by J. Harrington

The Lake Superior LAMP 2015-2019 notes this about mining's impacts [p. 48 & 49]:
The Lake Superior basin has a long history of mining operations and related impacts. While mining operations can offer economic benefits, they also present threats to the environment. For example, two Great Lakes Areas of Concern, Deer Lake and Torch Lake, were so designated in the Lake Superior basin due to impacts from past mining operations. Fourteen mines currently operate in the Lake Superior basin, with many explorations and expansions underway. Current and/or past mines in the basin have extracted gold, silver, copper, platinum, palladium, nickel, zinc, diamond, lead, iron-ore and taconite, as well as quarried brownstone. Mining impacts cannot be easily reversed –some can cause far reaching and lasting environmental damage. Mining activity has the potential to impairwater quality(e.g., mining is currently the largest source of mercury emissions from within the Lake Superior basin) and degrade habitat (e.g., through increased sediments). Mining sediments in the nearshore, embayments,and river mouths may cover or degrade fish spawning habitats, Wild Rice and other natural resources. After a mine closes, it can remain a source of contamination from chemicals and waste rock piles; tailing ponds must be monitored and maintained for centuries to avoid environmental impacts. 
Recent developments regarding the water discharge permit issued by the Minnesota Pollution Control  Agency make it, at best, questions whether Minnesota is honoring recommendations 3, 8 and 10. The lack of Water Quality Based Effluent Limits in the issued permit would seem to make it impossible to determine consistency with any water quality objective found in or derived from the LAMP.

In order to assess whether mining is responsible and sustainable, both process and substantive criteria should be agreed upon and compliance with those criteria should be regularly assessed in a transparent process. In Minnesota, we don't seem to be there yet.

We're going to share the usual poem we put here one stanza at a time. It's a long poem but, we believe, fits really well with the theme we're developing.

Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings

By Joy Harjo


We speak together with this trade language of English. This trade language enables us to speak across many language boundaries. These languages have given us the poets:

Ortiz, Silko, Momaday, Alexie, Diaz, Bird, Woody, Kane, Bitsui, Long Soldier, White, Erdrich, Tapahonso, Howe, Louis, Brings Plenty, okpik, Hill, Wood, Maracle, Cisneros, Trask, Hogan, Dunn, Welch, Gould...

The 1957 Chevy is unbeatable in style. My broken-down one-eyed Ford will have to do. It holds everyone: Grandma and grandpa, aunties and uncles, the children and the babies, and all my boyfriends. That's what she said, anyway, as she drove off for the Forty-Nine with all of us in that shimmying wreck.

This would be no place to be without blues, jazz—Thank you/mvtoto the Africans, the Europeans sitting in, especially Adolphe Sax with his saxophones... Don't forget that at the center is the Mvskoke ceremonial circles. We know how to swing. We keep the heartbeat of the earth in our stomp dance feet.

You might try dancing theory with a bustle, or a jingle dress, or with turtles strapped around your legs. You might try wearing colonization like a heavy gold chain around a pimp's neck.

Thanks for visiting. Come again when you can.
Please be kind to each other while you can.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Is "responsible mining" greenwash?

According to today's Star Tribune, "Mining giant Glencore gains majority control of PolyMet." Meanwhile, there are a number of ongoing court cases opposing several of the permits necessary for development of the PolyMet / NorthMet mine operation in Minnesota. That's the one over which Glencore just gained majority control.

Glencore is one of 30 mining companies that participated in a 2018 Responsible Mining Foundation evaluation of "best mining practices." We haven't yet reached a decision on whether we believe the Responsible Mining Index [RMI] 2018 is a real step forward or the beginning of a "greenwash" campaign, but we think the RMI effort at least should be considered by those Minnesota decision makers pondering whether Minnesota's mining and environmental protection rules and regulations, even if they were actually followed and enforced, begin to approach world class status. As the RMI report itself notes:
The RMI 2018 results show that if one company were to attain all the highest scores achieved for every indicator, it would reach over 70% of the maximum achievable score. This implies that existing best practice, if systematically applied by all companies, could already go some way to meeting society expectations. [emphasis added]
We suggest that the emphasized phrase could also be stated "it would reach only 70% of the maximum achievable..." Might such a condition be comparable to Minnesota's mining standards?

By way of some additional background, a 2011 article in the guardian notes that "Mining and commodities giant Glencore has suffered dozens of fatalities and been subject to six-figure fines for environmental breaches, the company revealed on Wednesday." The Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness blog has a recent posting describing troublesome histories of both Glencore and Antofagasta, the mover behind a proposed Twin Metals mine near the Boundary Waters. Our reading of the RMI report suggests how easily such problems can be glossed over (greenwashed). However, that same report consistently rates Glencore amount the top third of responsible mining companies. In four of the six categories, Antofagasta rates just ahead of Glencore, but is out of the top ten in two others.

Northern Minnesota's water riches need better protection
Northern Minnesota's water riches need better protection
Photo by J. Harrington

All of this suggests that the entire mining sector has a significant way to go to be considered responsible, let alone sustainable. Here's a quick summary of where Glencore and Antofagasta rate in each of six major categories used in the report. It's worth noting that none of the mine-site specific criteria included any North American locations.

  • Economic Development
    Glencore #10 (4 way tie), Antofagasta #9

  • Business Conduct
    Glencore #8, Antofagasta #4

  • Lifecycle Management
    Glencore #10, Antofagasta #9

  • Community Wellbeing
    Glencore #9, Antofagasta #NA

  • Working Conditions
    Glencore #5, Antofagasta #NA

  • Environmental Responsibility
    Glencore #5, Antofagasta #7
A Key Finding in the report is directly relevant to current issues surrounding the permits issued last December for the PolyMet Glencore NorthMet operation. It's similar to some things we've advocated in past postings and a variant on "Sunlight is the best disinfectant!" philosophy.
National, international and multi-stakeholder reporting requirements clearly lead to more and better reporting and public disclosure. Stronger reporting is evident where companies align their public reporting with, for example, the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), Extractives Industry Transparency Initiative (EITI), the Carbon Disclosure Project, or mandatory reporting requirements.

We're going to share the usual poem we put here one stanza at a time. It's a long poem but, we believe, fits really well with the theme we're developing.

Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings

By Joy Harjo


If you sign this paper we will become brothers. We will no longer fight. We will give you this land and these waters "as long as the grass shall grow and the rivers run."

The lands and waters they gave us did not belong to them to give. Under false pretenses we signed. After drugging by drink, we signed. With a mass of gunpower pointed at us, we signed. With a flotilla of war ships at our shores, we signed. We are still signing. We have found no peace in this act of signing.

A casino was raised up over the gravesite of our ancestors. Our own distant cousins pulled up the bones of grandparents, parents, and grandchildren from their last sleeping place. They had forgotten how to be human beings. Restless winds emerged from the earth when the graves were open and the winds went looking for justice.

If you raise this white flag of peace, we will honor it.

At Sand Creek several hundred women, children, and men were slaughtered in an unspeakable massacre, after a white flag was raised. The American soldiers trampled the white flag in the blood of the peacemakers.

There is a suicide epidemic among native children. It is triple the rate of the rest of America. "It feels like wartime," said a child welfare worker in South Dakota.

If you send your children to our schools we will train them to get along in this changing world. We will educate them.

We had no choice. They took our children. Some ran away and froze to death. If they were found they were dragged back to the school and punished. They cut their hair, took away their language, until they became as strangers to themselves even as they became strangers to us.

If you sign this paper we will become brothers. We will no longer fight. We will give you this land and these waters in exchange "as long as the grass shall grow and the rivers run."

Put your hand on this bible, this blade, this pen, this oil derrick, this gun and you will gain trust and respect with us. Now we can speak together as one.

We say, put down your papers, your tools of coercion, your false promises, your posture of superiority and sit with us before the fire. We will share food, songs, and stories. We will gather beneath starlight and dance, and rise together at sunrise.

The sun rose over the Potomac this morning, over the city surrounding the white house.
It blazed scarlet, a fire opening truth.
White House, or Chogo Hvtke, means the house of the peacekeeper, the keepers of justice.
We have crossed this river to speak to the white leader for peace many times
Since these settlers first arrived in our territory and made this their place of governance.
These streets are our old trails, curved to fit around trees.

Thanks for visiting. Come again when you can.
Please be kind to each other while you can.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Can mining be sustainable in Minnesota?

Back around the turn of the millennium, I read a book by John Elkington titled Cannibals With Forks. The title derives from a question the Polish poet Stanislaw Lec asked, “Is it progress if a cannibal uses a fork?” Reading recent articles about mining in Minnesota and the degree to which environmental regulators might be aiding and abetting mining companies who cannibalize Minnesota's social and natural environment, leads me to believe that, if we want to progress, it's past time for a new and more rigorous framework for permitting mines and mining in this state. We offer the following outline not because we expect it to be fully adopted, but because we've seen so little recognition that others have already mined the vein of making mining sustainable. (Sorry, couldn't resist.)

Let's start with four principles identified as a basis for The Natural Step approach to sustainability:
In a sustainable society, nature is not subject to systematically increasing …
  1. … concentrations of substances from the earth’s crust (such as fossil CO2 and heavy metals),
  2. … concentrations of substances produced by society (such as antibiotics and endocrine disruptors),
  3. … degradation by physical means (such as deforestation and draining of groundwater tables),
…and in that society …
  1. … there are no structural obstacles to people’s health, influence, competence, impartiality and meaning.
These factors are explored in some detail at Is there Mining in a Sustainable Society.

Another basic approach is described by Donella Meadows in Indicators and Information Systems for Sustainable Development, in which she wrote:
The three most basic aggregate measures of sustainable development are the sufficiency with which ultimate ends are realized for all people, the efficiency with which ultimate means are translated into ultimate ends, and the sustainability of use of ultimate means.
Those aggregate measures translate into the following basic hierarchy (see page 42 in the linked report for a more complete description):
  • Well-being (ultimate ends)
  • Social capital (intermediate ends)
  • Human capital (intermediate means/ends)
  • Built capital (intermediate means)
  • Natural capital (ultimate means) 
To put it in simple terms related to mining, the natural capital of ore is extracted and processed using built and human capital that creates jobs in healthy communities (social capital) inhabited by fulfilled, healthy families living in a healthy environment (well-being).

iron mine "spoils" Minnesota's Iron Range
iron mine "spoils" Minnesota's Iron Range
Photo by J. Harrington

Not many / any mining operations function sustainably today and, in historical terms, the situation has been even worse. That's why there are so many abandoned mines continuing to pollute the environment with toxic substances. We'll touch on some of those details in coming days. For now, be aware that there's a significant gap between any mining operation and a sustainable community, but, it may not have to be that way. To get near sustainable mining in Minnesota will require more than more stringent regulations. Would that it were that simple.

We're going to share the usual poem we put here a stanza at a time. It's a long poem but, we believe, fits really well with the theme.

Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings

By Joy Harjo

I am the holy being of my mother's prayer and my father's song
                                                      —Norman Patrick Brown, Dineh Poet and Speaker


Recognize whose lands these are on which we stand.
Ask the deer, turtle, and the crane.
Make sure the spirits of these lands are respected and treated with goodwill.
The land is a being who remembers everything.
You will have to answer to your children, and their children, and theirs—
The red shimmer of remembering will compel you up the night to walk the perimeter of truth for understanding.
As I brushed my hair over the hotel sink to get ready I heard:
By listening we will understand who we are in this holy realm of words.
Do not parade, pleased with yourself.
You must speak in the language of justice.

Thanks for visiting. Come again when you can.
Please be kind to each other while you can.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Democracy is not a spectator sport

Once upon a time, in a mindset long, long ago and far, far away, some progressives believed the solution to democratic governance and environmental protection was to properly recruit and vet political candidates, work to get the best candidate elected, let them do their job and pretty much stay out of it between elections. Today we are facing the results of those misjudgments. We have allowed politicians and "business interests" to dominate state and federal decision-making. The consequences are likely to be disastrous for the earth and all its inhabitants. Here's some Minnesota background that, we suspect, could readily be extrapolated to just about everyplace else in the world.

it takes all of us, farmers to techies, to govern Minnesota
it takes all of us, farmers to techies, to govern Minnesota
Photo by J. Harrington

Last year we read a book by Grant Merritt, Iron and Water: My Life Protecting Minnesota’s Environment.
Merritt enthusiastically embraces the need for citizen action. In the book he quotes Abraham Lincoln from a debate with Stephen Douglas: “With public sentiment, nothing can fail; without it nothing can succeed.” Merritt follows Lincoln’s dictum with the observation that, “In order to make that possible, it is crucial to let the public know what is going on.” Merritt himself was a highly successful publicist, accessible to and frequently quoted by reporters.  He said he learned early in his political career to “speak in headlines,” and he was not shy about using the media to promote his views.

A few years before that, we had watched in dismay as the legislature disbanded the Citizens' Board that had been nominally in charge of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. Some attribute the motivation for that to disgruntled legislators from Minnesota's Iron Range.

Iron Range legislators: Cross us at your own risk 

Those legislators are the real culprit behind changes to the MPCA and State Auditor's office. 

Others argue that the decline of the MPCA Board involved a number of detrimental changes over many years.

Why do Minnesotans put up with this?

Some very smart, well-informed people must have written the environmental laws of Minnesota in the 1960s and 1970s.  The Citizens’ Board seems to have been designed to keep the MPCA from becoming overly bureaucratic, self-serving, and too closely tied to the interests it was supposed to regulate.  These, of course, are the normal evolutionary tendencies of a regulatory agency, kept down only by constant effort.  No wonder the Chamber and “big-ag,” etc, wanted the Citizens’ Board gone. 
Minnesota and its Pollution Control Agency is now faced with Appellate Court judicial findings of "... substantial evidence of procedural irregularities not shown in the administrative record ...," and the likelihood of additional documentation of such problems as a result of a review being undertaken by the Office of the Legislative Auditor.

Could all of this have been avoided if the Minnesota Legislature had left well enough alone and not supported the efforts of former Governor Carlson to diminish the authority and independence of the Citizen's Board? We can't be certain, but the odds, in our opinion, are in favor of better, more balanced decisions, transparently arrived at, if we had a pollution control agency truly governed by the citizens of Minnesota, not a few bureaucrats readily influenced by legislators or industries interested in regulatory capture.

Legislation to reestablish a Pollution Control Agency Citizens Board did not make it through the 2019 legislative session. If we truly care about Minnesota's future and a healthy enjoyable environment in Minnesota for our descendants to enjoy, it's up to us to make sure that legislation gets enacted next year and signed by Governor Walz. We can envision few better ways to create #OneMinnesota than having a stronger, clearer role for citizens in running the state. There needs to be more seats at the table to manage our response to the climate emergency we face.

The Obsoletion of a Language

By Kay Ryan

We knew it 
would happen, 
one of the laws.
And that it
would be this
sudden. Words
become a chewing
action of the jaws 
and mouth, unheard
by the only other
citizen there was
on earth.

Thanks for visiting. Come again when you can.
Please be kind to each other while you can.

Monday, June 24, 2019

Now, we get to the truth!

Yesterday, we expressed concerns about the probable objectivity of any legislative hearing regarding the MPCA and EPA roles in crafting a wastewater discharge permit for the PolyMet NorthMet project. Today, we learned (see press release below and this link) that:

  1. Rep. Hansen, chair of the House Environment and Natural Resources Finance Division, does not plan on calling any hearings in his committee on this issue.

  2. Rep. Hansen is also Chair of the Legislative Audit Commission.

  3. Rep. Hansen has called on the Office of the Legislative Auditor to review concerns surrounding MPCA's decision-making on the PolyMet permit.

  4. The Legislative auditor will proceed with a thorough review immediately.
We cannot begin to express sufficient gratitude to Representative Hansen and the Office of the Legislative Auditor for their efforts on this matter. While we're at it, we also want to thank:
for their continuing efforts to protect Minnesota's environment and present Minnesotans with the truth about those who endeavor to do otherwise.

We are not foolish enough to believe that our posting yesterday had anything to do with Rep. Hansen's decision. We are pleased that a number of those whose opinions we respect did decide that a response similar to what we proposed seems appropriate to the circumstances. There's an old saying about "even a blind hog (that would be us) can find acorns every once in awhile." Today the world doesn't seem quite as screwed up as it did yesterday. Think we might start a trend here?

The Truth About the Present

John Lane

after Bei Dao
when rivers are intoxicated
with dioxide you gather lotus shoots
to pick their pockets is
the clock of the age

when the last songbird
shivers with undue cold like wires overhead
to handle harsh metals is
the clock of the age

when your keyboard dissolves
in the pit of nations
to write in echoes is
the clock of the age

when you forge transparencies
in the foundries upstream
the bridges are blocked by karaoke
their digital sand is
the clock of the age

the cell phone's face is always
time-dependent on fingers somewhere
today opens to the nearby delta 
and tomorrow 
is the clock of the age

Thanks for visiting. Come again when you can.
Please be kind to each other while you can.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Which do you trust more, politicians or bureaucrats?

Today's Star Tribune has an interesting and potentially encouraging editorial:
Legislative hearing is imperative after leaked e-mail, new documents sow PolyMet doubts
We might be more supportive of the idea of a legislative hearing were it not for the legislature's long and convoluted history of bending over, both forward and backward, for the mining industry in this state. The most recent example we can think of centers on obfuscating or eviscerating the state's long-standing (but unenforced) water quality standard for sulfates. Here's the recent history on that topic. A review will note a significant, but not surprising, involvement by members representing the Iron Range. The description doesn't tell the whole story, but it is telling: Wild rice water findings established and listing authorized, application of water quality standards nullified and restricted, report required, and money appropriated. Please be sure to check who served on the conference committee that reconciled the Senate and House versions.

The St. Louis River, between PolyMet and Lake Superior
The St. Louis River, between PolyMet and Lake Superior
Photo by J. Harrington

Let me be more candid than tactful: neither politicians nor regulatory bureaucrats have an enviable record of putting public health and environmental protection ahead of business interests. I spent part of my career involved in the crafting of discharge permits for publicly owned treatment works [POTW] (wastewater treatment plants), including one for the largest POTW in Minnesota, the Metro Plant. At least one of those permits was subject to a contested case hearing in front of an Administrative Law Judge. I'm not sure if discharge permits for industrial wastewater are subject to contested case hearings or not. If not, they should be. It would be a much better way to develop a complete record for any subsequent judicial review than the system we now have.

Here's the reality: Discharge permits allow private or governmental entities to dispose of waste products to commons that belong to humans and all other living creatures. We've seen a number of instances in which corporations or regulators have endeavored to avoid strict controls in the regulatory process. Minnesota's mining sector is but one of several egregious instances.

We deserve better than the existing system, even it it underwent a few tweaks. In some instances, others are endeavoring to create a better system for the provision of a social license to extractive industries. A spokesperson for Governor Walz has said:
“In order for any mining project to move forward, it would need to meet strict environmental standards that include a significant and transparent public process,” Tschann said. “This is especially important for a project that is located so close to the Boundary Waters.”
We note that Minnesota is becoming increasingly infamous for standards that are neither strict nor transparent in protecting the environment or the state's citizens and non-mining businesses from the negative effects of mining. We doubt that a legislative hearing would add anything to either rigor or transparency, especially if legislators have a prior history of "helping mining." At the moment, the Legislative Auditor's Office and staff have a better, and better deserved, reputation for both rigor and transparency. I'd really like to see and hear what they have to say.

We're not the only skeptics in the crowd, either. Check Skipping down Memory Lane with PolyMet.

A Song: Strephon, your breach of faith and trust

Strephon, your breach of faith and trust 
     Affords me no surprise; 
A man who grateful was, or just, 
     Might make my wonder rise. 

That heart to you so fondly tied, 
     With pleasure wore its chain, 
But from your cold neglectful pride, 
     Found liberty again. 

For this no wrath inflames my mind, 
     My thanks are due to thee; 
Such thanks as gen'rous victors find,
     Who set their captives free.

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Please be kind to each other while you can.

Saturday, June 22, 2019

A Full Summer's Day #phenology

On this first full day of Summer, we have discovered that we have, living under our front porch, not one, but at least two baby bunnies. For the first few weeks of June, we only saw one baby bunny at a time. To plagiarize Shel Silverstein, we had Runny Babbit, the presumed mother, living under that same porch all Winter, enjoying snack after snack from our Christmas greenery that was decorating the porch and steps.

Runny Babbit's Winter home
Runny Babbit's Winter home
Photo by J. Harrington

Now that we're into full-fledged Summer, what with whitetails nibbling the tops of the bushes, and rabbits eating the lower branches and flowers, we're lucky there's any plants left to water. There is some good news emanating from out behind the house in the "wet spot." The blue flag iris we planted a few years back has come into bloom during the past few days and we think we noticed a couple of swamp milkweed plants growing nearby. We could have some happy butterflies sometime soon. Both plants seem to be a couple or three weeks later than usual coming into flower this year, as just about everything around here has been this year of the cool, wet Spring. Good thing those baby bunnies had a porch roof to help keep them dry and warm.

Runny Babbit eating Summer's clover
Runny Babbit eating Summer's clover
Photo by J. Harrington

The Funny Bamily

by Shel Silverstein

Runny fad a hamily,
Matter of fact, he had
A sother and two bristers,
A dummy and a mad. 
His mamma fed him marrot cilk
And parrot cie and such,
And all of them were happy
In their cozy hunny butch.

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Please be kind to each other while you can.

Friday, June 21, 2019

Happy Summer Solstice to our new Poet Laureate!

Astronomical Summer has finally caught up with Meteorological Summer. We have from now until September 23 to enjoy Summer, unless we are meteorologists, in which case Summer ends on September 1st. In either case, the odds are at least fair that we'll get to enjoy Summer's warmth until mid-October. We humans seem to have a phenomenal ability to make things complicated, don't we?

Summer Solstice often brings misty dawns
Summer Solstice often brings misty dawns
Photo by J. Harrington

Druids call the Summer Solstice "Alban Hefin, The Light of the Shore." The sun is the source for almost all the energy that supports life on this Earth of ours. Some think Summer is a time of extra energy. Others find the heat and humidity to be enervating. We're sure that this Summer will be delightfully portentous because, just prior to the Solstice, one of our favorite poets was named Poet Laureate of the United States. Joy Harjo will begin her term a few days before the Autumnal Equinox, on September 19.

We look forward to seeing what she does with the opportunity this appointment presents to the first Native American to hold this position. We cannot think of a more deserving poet to be selected for the 2019-2020 term, particularly in light of the title of one of her most recent volumes of poetry, Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings (Norton, 2015). These times we are living in drive us to need all the help possible with the growing numbers of daily and monumental conflicts we encounter or create. Perhaps we would have fewer conflicts and would enjoy life and poetry more if we took time to celebrate more folk festivals like today's Solstice and, as Harjo has written, to


Joy Harjo- 1951-

Remember the sky that you were born under,
know each of the star's stories.
Remember the moon, know who she is.
Remember the sun's birth at dawn, that is the
strongest point of time. Remember sundown
and the giving away to night.
Remember your birth, how your mother struggled
to give you form and breath. You are evidence of
her life, and her mother's, and hers.
Remember your father. He is your life, also.
Remember the earth whose skin you are:
red earth, black earth, yellow earth, white earth
brown earth, we are earth.
Remember the plants, trees, animal life who all have their
tribes, their families, their histories, too. Talk to them,
listen to them. They are alive poems.
Remember the wind. Remember her voice. She knows the
origin of this universe.
Remember you are all people and all people
are you.
Remember you are this universe and this
universe is you.
Remember all is in motion, is growing, is you.
Remember language comes from this.
Remember the dance language is, that life is.

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Please be kind to each other while you can.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

To whom are we "The Other?"

Probably because of some of what I've been reading over the past few years, and, before that, the fundamentals of sociology course I took in college, and, especially, the way politics have been going both nationally and internationally, I've been thinking more and more about binaries. I don't particularly care for them although I can make choices when needed. Back in my college days, I came across a psychologist named Fritz Perls. He crafted what is know as the "Gestalt prayer."
I do my thing and you do your thing.
I am not in this world to live up to your expectations,
And you are not in this world to live up to mine.
You are you, and I am I,
and if by chance we find each other, it's beautiful.
If not, it can't be helped.

(Fritz Perls, "Gestalt Therapy Verbatim", 1969)
Simple concepts that many of us find hard to remember and even harder to live by. It depends on the existence of a you and an I. But, how does a Gestalt prayer fit with the Native American concept that the world, indeed, the universe, perhaps, is made up of each of us and "all my/our relations" [Lakota or Ojibwe].

Minnesota Goose Garden near Sandstone
Minnesota Goose Garden near Sandstone
Photo by J. Harrington

In sociology, "Otherness" is a fundamental concept. It is also a major theme in literature. So, it would seem that, depending on our cultural background, we may find ourselves focused on what makes us different or what we have in common. Is it clear how much either focus is a matter of choice? Not often nor entirely. It seems to me more like the emphasis on nature versus nurture.

Much of what we do is based on the kind of world we live in and the kind of people we live with, more so than on the kind of world we would like to live in and the kind of people we would like to live with. I know that, on an off day, when I try to envision living in a world full of people just like me, I shudder. I couldn't stand it. Not that I don't like myself, but that I've watched one too many times the "Dirty Harry" movie in which Clint Eastwood says "It takes a good man to know his limitations." Change, variety, unlikeness, other, is the spice of life, isn't it?

I don't have any clear answers to offer in today's ponderings. In fact, I'm not even sure I've got the questions right, or is it the right questions? I am sure that we need to transform our culture and, especially, our politics, into a celebration, rather than a condemnation, of our differences because the differences increase our options and are facets of that diamond, still in the rough, that is our common humanity. I think it was good old Ben Franklin who warned us "We must, indeed, all hang together or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately."

A Ritual to Read to Each Other

If you don't know the kind of person I am
and I don't know the kind of person you are
a pattern that others made may prevail in the world
and following the wrong god home we may miss our star.

For there is many a small betrayal in the mind,
a shrug that lets the fragile sequence break
sending with shouts the horrible errors of childhood
storming out to play through the broken dike.

And as elephants parade holding each elephant's tail,
but if one wanders the circus won't find the park,
I call it cruel and maybe the root of all cruelty
to know what occurs but not recognize the fact.

And so I appeal to a voice, to something shadowy,
a remote important region in all who talk:
though we could fool each other, we should consider—
lest the parade of our mutual life get lost in the dark.

For it is important that awake people be awake,
or a breaking line may discourage them back to sleep;
the signals we give — yes or no, or maybe —
should be clear: the darkness around us is deep.

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Please be kind to each other while you can.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Why didn't the turtle cross the road?

Yesterday, as we were headed off to retrieve our tractor from the Daughter Person and Son-In-Law, we noticed an new and different "lump" on our gravel drive. Since the Better Half [BH] was standing next to the Jeep so she could check the trailer taillights as we pulled out, we said: "Is that a turtle in the drive?" and pointed. BH took the hint, walked over, looked at it, and said "Yep." It was a good sized painted turtle. (No photos of that one.) It's our first turtle sighting of the year. We feel almost like the mountain must have felt when Muhammad went to it.

painted turtle crossing gravel road
painted turtle crossing gravel road
Photo by J. Harrington

We suspect the turtle was looking for a friendly location to lay some eggs and had clambered several hundred yards through the woods in search of one. The BH didn't watch to see where the turtle went. It could have headed back for the pond North of the property; to the wet spot behind the house, or off into the sandy field to excavate a nest. We were pleased we didn't see a squashed, or squished, turtle shell on our township road yesterday or today. It's possible a local coyote might have grabbed it, or it now might be ensconced back where it came from. One of life's mysteries we'll never resolve, and that's probably as it should be. Past years we've had the honor of helping turtles across our once gravel road. This year none have been seen trying to cross the new and improved paved road.

Summer Solstice brush pile burn
Summer Solstice brush pile burn
Photo by J. Harrington

We got some grass cut today, before the next rainy spell descends on us. There's a little buckthorn pulling still to be done on the one area we want to replant with native bushes, and the BH has finished rescuing her day lily bed from the grass invaders. It's about time to order up another MNDNR born permit so we'll be legal to celebrate either the Summer Solstice this Friday or Independence Day in a couple of weeks by burning last Winter's brush pile. After that, we can start on next year's. The rabbits and snakes and some songbirds seem to appreciate having a brush pile on, in or under which to rest and relax from predators. Maybe that's where the turtle headed for. We'll be sure to make a big commotion and watch carefully when we finally get around to igniting the pile.

Painted Turtle

Summer road the ring around the lake, we drove mostly in silence.

Why aren’t I your wife?

You swerved around a turtle sunning itself.

I wanted to go back. To hold the hot disc of it and place it in the grass.

We were late for dinner.

One twentieth of a mile an hour, I said. Claws in tar. You turned the car around.

Traffic from the direction of the turtle, and you saw before I did, the fifty bones of the carapace,

crushed roman dome, the surprise of red blood.

I couldn’t help crying, couldn’t keep anything from harm.

I’m sorry, you said, and let it hurt.

The relief, always, of you in the seat beside me, you’ll never know.

Driving that road next winter, you remembered that place in the road. Your turtle.

During hibernation, a turtle’s heart beats once for every ten minutes.

It cannot voluntarily open its eyes.

Thanks for visiting. Come again when you can.
Please be kind to each other while you can.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Mystery plant identified! (?)

Some, but not many, weeks ago we wrote about a plant that we couldn't identify that has popped up on many locations on our property, often mixed in with buckthorn or poison ivy. Since that time we've pulled more of the unidentified plant, along with more buckthorn, and continued to look through our field guides and other resources on the flora of Minnesota. We now believe we have established the identity of the unknown plant. We finally found strong evidence paging through, literally page by page, almost all of the 700+ pages of Welby Smith's Trees and Shrubs of Minnesota. On page 680, we found prickly ash (Zanthoxylum americanum) and a telling description that included "These roots can become quite invasive and will sprout suckers (new shoots) unless inhibited by competition." That's consistent with what we've noticed as we pulled the stems and suckers.

prickly ash (Zanthoxylum americanum)
prickly ash (Zanthoxylum americanum)
Photo by J. Harrington

So, this year we're pulling buckthorn; pulling prickly ash; and spraying poison ivy. The buckthorn is nonnative. Prickly ash and poison ivy are both native, although the latter is listed as a noxious weed and the former is reported to offer limited medicinal properties, we believe we can do nicely with none of the above. We do continue to have major reservations about how many of the "invasive" plants in Minnesota have been classified. For the most part, the perspective described in Tao Orion's Beyond the War on Invasive Species, A Permaculture Approach to Ecosystem Restoration is more in line with our thinking and approach. Sometimes all we can do is treat symptoms, but then we should expect recurrences of the invasions. Being clearer about the priority to be assigned to responses to noxious weeds, whether invasive or not, might also be helpful.

We continue to ponder the difference between Mother Nature's approach of profligacy, spreading countless seeds wantonly, extending suckers radially, feeding fruits to creatures, thus extending the range of seed distribution, etc., compared to our more feeble planting of three or four of somethings and thus often accomplishing little but offering appetizers to the deer, rabbits and other creatures that have no respect for our efforts to improve the landscape's aesthetic qualities. Although, since we've been startled over the past few years to learn that trees communicate with each other, we wouldn't be surprised to learn some day that wild creatures actually have an aesthetic sense, but that it differs radically from ours. After all, many of us humans have wildly differing tastes in what we find pleasing to observe and/or eat. Life, and the earth, are consistently more complicated than we seem to be prepared for. Will we ever learn to take this into account and practice a much more holistic pattern of thinking?


Milly Sorensen, January 16, 1922 - February 19, 2004

It was the moonflowers that surprised us. 
Early summer we noticed the soft gray foliage. 
She asked for seedpods every year but I never saw them in her garden. 
Never knew what she did with them. 
Exotic and tropical, not like her other flowers. 
I expected her to throw them in the pasture maybe, 
a gift to the coyotes. Huge, platterlike white flowers 
shining in the night to soften their plaintive howling. 
A sound I love; a reminder, even on the darkest night, 
that manicured lawns don't surround me. 

Midsummer they shot up, filled the small place by the back door, 
sprawled over sidewalks, refused to be ignored. 
Gaudy and awkward by day, 
by night they were huge, soft, luminous. 
Only this year, this year of her death 
did they break free of their huge, prickly husks 
and brighten the darkness she left.

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Please be kind to each other while you can.

Monday, June 17, 2019

#PollinatorWeek is This Week!

According to the Pollinator Partnership web site,
Birds, bats, bees, butterflies, beetles, and other small mammals that pollinate plants are responsible for bringing us one out of every three bites of food. They also sustain our ecosystems and produce our natural resources by helping plants reproduce.

monarch butterflies on Northern Plains  Blazing-star
monarch butterflies on Northern Plains  Blazing-star
Photo by J. Harrington

We've a number of wild flowers (and some tame ones) on our property. We sometimes see a butterfly or a bee, but not very often. Years ago we hung a bat house, and when that finally came down in a storm, we relplaced it in a different location. Bats used the first house, but, as far as we can tell, none have moved into the second house during the past several years. We've not had any better luck with the "solitary bee house" we built from a kit a couple of years ago. No one moved in the first year and so we moved it to where it gets better morning sunlight. Still, it appears that we have no takers.

Our Better Half recently gave us a handful of New England aster seeds as a gift. The instructions call for planting the seeds in "well-drained moist soil." It is no doubt due to our lack of soils education, but we're having problems wrapping our head around "well-drained moist." Those seem to us to be mutually exclusive adjectives that we will need to reconcile to enjoy germination success and please ourselves by providing late Summer sustenance to migrating butterflies.

bee hives behind electric fence
bee hives behind electric fence
Photo by J. Harrington

One of the continuing challenges we face in making our property more pollinator friendly is that many of the flowers we plant to attract pollinators are also considered tasty by the local whitetails. We think that's where our annual plantings of this perennial disappear to. On the other hand, we've avoided the potentially escalating issues of having a few bee hives, which would then need to be protected from the local bear(s) by installing electric fencing, such as the arrangement we saw several years ago near the Audubon Society's North Woods Center near Sandstone.


Some days her main job seems to be
to welcome back the Red Admiral
as it lights on a leaf of the yellow
forsythia. It is her duty to stop & lean
over to take in how it folds & opens
its wings. Then, too, there is the common
Tiger Swallowtail, which seems to her
entirely uncommon in how it moves
about the boundaries of this clearing
we made so many years ago. If she leaves
the compost bucket unwashed to rescue
a single tattered wing from under the winter
jasmine or the blue flowers of the periwinkle
& then spends a whole afternoon at our round
oak table surrounded by field guides
& tea until she is sure—yes—that it belongs to
a Lorquin's Admiral, or that singular
mark is one of the great cat's eyes
of a Milbert's Tortoiseshell, then she is
simply practicing her true vocation
learning the story behind the blue beads
of the Mourning Cloak, the silver commas
of the Satyr Anglewing, the complex shades
of the Spring Azure, moving through this life
letting her sweet, light attention land
on one luminous thing after another.

Thanks for visiting. Come again when you can.
Please be kind to each other while you can.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Father's Day bloomsday #phenology

So, instead of raining on a multitude of Father's Day parades, Mother Nature decided to invalidate a stormy weather forecast and delivered sunshine instead of cloudy, warm instead of cool, and dry instead of wet, making those of us who enjoyed brunch on a deck/patio happy instead of sad. We sincerely hope all dads and those who made them such have as enjoyable and pleasant a Father's Day as we've had so far. The best part has been the company we've kept. It's not every day these days we get to see our son, Daughter Person, Son-In-Law and Better Half all in the same day. Nor is it every year that Father's Day falls on Bloomsday.

June wildflowers, lupine, sheep sorrel, ???
June wildflowers, lupine, sheep sorrel, ???
Photo by J. Harrington

As we were coming home, we drove past the location shown in the picture above. What we think are lupine (blue) have started to bloom sometime in the past few days, but not to the extent shown in the photo from a few years ago. The sheep sorrel (red) isn't as prominent yet this year either. We'll get back to this spot some day this week to confirm, up close, our preliminary identifications and see if we can figure out if the lupine is native or nonnative.

We just noticed, before we started this posting, that our refill for hummingbird sugar-water had turned cloudy. Time for us to sign off and make some fresh nectar. Otherwise, this has been a rare and beautiful Father's Day in June.


Philip Levine- 1928-2015

The new grass rising in the hills,
the cows loitering in the morning chill,
a dozen or more old browns hidden
in the shadows of the cottonwoods
beside the streambed. I go higher
to where the road gives up and there's
only a faint path strewn with lupine
between the mountain oaks. I don't
ask myself what I'm looking for.
I didn't come for answers
to a place like this, I came to walk
on the earth, still cold, still silent.
Still ungiving, I've said to myself,
although it greets me with last year's
dead thistles and this year's 
hard spines, early blooming
wild onions, the curling remains
of spider's cloth. What did I bring 
to the dance? In my back pocket
a crushed letter from a woman
I've never met bearing bad news
I can do nothing about. So I wander
these woods half sightless while
a west wind picks up in the trees
clustered above. The pines make
a music like no other, rising and 
falling like a distant surf at night
that calms the darkness before 
first light. "Soughing" we call it, from
Old English, no less. How weightless
words are when nothing will do.

Thanks for visiting. Come again when you can.
Please be kind to each other while you can.