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Things have not improved since a year ago April when TTT presented a two-week series on the ravages of sulfide mining to come if PolyMet and other mining companies have their way with us – us being Minnesotans of all sorts.
While some delays have been invoked over the applications for DNR-issued mining permits, the political powers that be continue to pressure the relevant state and federal agencies regulating Minnesota industries of all sorts to look past the potential harms bubbling up into our environment – our water, air and food – by industries given too much deference and pitting economic benefits against human health and other natural resources and animals.
Here are some questions we posed last year for our guests – and you, the public – last year in the face of local area legislators and St. Paul regulatory authorities pushing through permits to further pollute those resources we rely on to give life to all living things:
What more are we willing to sacrifice in terms of what we’re able to eat, drink and breathe in order to provide some – perhaps a lot – of short-term construction work – along with far fewer full time, permanent jobs?
These are but a few questions that require some deep and introspective thinking and evaluating by millions of people who surely want clean air and water and unadulterated food, but who have, through no fault of their own, found themselves unemployed, limited in their training and education to the work they did before and eager to earn a living for themselves and their families.
That’s what makes projects like the PolyMet Copper-Nickel Mine project well north of the Twin Cities such a seductive venture. The mine would be dug smack in the middle of the Superior National Forest, in what is called the Duluth Complex – a relatively untapped lode of these metals – the Fond du Lac Indian Reservation.
All local and statewide politicians, several labor groups and the Chambers of Commerce are one in arguing this issue: create the jobs – and forget the environmental damage their work may cause in both the long and short term. They claim this all-new, non-ferrous mining operation will produce the important copper and nickel used in a variety of products we use every day – with an interesting emphasis on renewable, rechargeable and critical-use tools – like batteries, hybrid vehicles, and pollution-reducing catalytic converters. Clever marketing.
Some local state representatives, senators, mostly Democrats last year, and joining them this year – Republican majorities - and even Amy Klobuchar and Jim Oberstar, endorse the project and angrily dismiss worried environmental groups and the Fond du Lac tribe’s arguments and even the Environmental Protection Agency’s lowest environmental rating as just so much (as if job-killing were an active agenda for clean water and food). The company isn’t much talking, so we can only consult their website for what is little more than a marketing pitch.
It would be easy to keep our focus on mining and the sulfuric acid aftermath of mining copper and nickel in Minnesota’s copper-rich Duluth Complex.
But this time we want to spread our wings a bit and remind our listeners that regulation in Minnesota may be silo-ed – isolated, that is – by agencies like the DNR (whose job includes the promotion and enabling of mining in the state, not just the protection of fish and wildlife); like the MN Pollution Control Agency, whose job has evolved to actually permitting pollution in greater quantities, then turn around and issue warnings when that pollution becomes dangerous to human health – but never shut down a polluter, whether a dangerous coal-fired utility, an animal or dairy feedlot with dangerous wastes overflowing into ditches and waterways feeding the rivers, or a waste-burning plant in the middle of the city threatening the breathing of residents; and like the Minnesota Health Department, which talks a good game, but is powerless to step in and actually require revisions in business practices that would save lives and ensure safer operations for the public health. Years of agency staffing with corporate sympathizers has left us bereft of real regulation.
In other words, we want to talk about regulation and its effectiveness – or lack of it – in protecting the public welfare over the economic benefits of deferring to corporate interests with the excuse that jobs are somehow in jeopardy if regulation imposes restrictions on those corporations…or, perhaps, denies them the authority to open shop at all without proving first that an enterprise will be safe for human and animal exposure.
After all, wasn’t regulation instituted to PREVENT harm to living beings? Why can’t we require an industry claiming to be safe for the environment to PROVE IT FIRST??
TTT’s ANDY DRISCOLL and MICHELLE ALIMORADI talk with those who are feeling slightly less powerful than the companies, politicians and state agencies turning the notion of regulation on its head and forcing victims to do the proving.
PAULA MACCABEE – Attorney, Water Legacy and Sierra Club North Star Chapter
ROBERT DESJARLAIT (Ojibwe-Anishinabe) – Co-Founder, Protect Our Manoomin (Wide Rice); Of the Red Lake Anishinaabe Nation; Visual artist, historian, educator and traditional dancer.
BRUCE JOHNSON – Retired MPCA Regulation Staff and Northern Minnesota resident.