Environment

“Most Anti-Environment Bill in Decades”: Rally at Capitol and Related Materials

Photo (c) Newspeak Review

Photo (c) Newspeak Review

By JT Haines – June 12, 2015

A Special Session of the Minnesota Legislature starts today, and a bill Betsy Daub, Policy Director of Friends of the Boundary Waters, is calling the “most anti-environment bill in decades” is still on the table.

The Minnesota Environmental Partnership echoes the sentiment, calling this “one of the most anti-clean water bills in decades.” In a letter joined by dozens of top enviro orgs, MEP offers 11 reasons why legislators should vote “no” on the Environment and Ag bill at Special Session.

The bill is clearly out of step with the demands of the moment and the needs of Minnesotans (unless one believes taking a giant dump on our environment and public resources is a fine plan). In terms of some of your options for action:

Friends of the Boundary Waters, Water Legacy, “Say No to Bakk and His Shenanigans,” and members of the new DFL Environmental Caucus are promoting a rally at the legislature today to say no to the bill. From Friends late last night:

“After months of back and forth, the Minnesota Legislature will meet TOMORROW (Friday, June 12th) in special session to pass budget bills that Governor Mark Dayton vetoed a couple of weeks ago.

The bad news is that the Environment and Agriculture bill is nearly as bad for the Boundary Waters as it was before. It would still eliminate the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s Citizens’ Board. It would still exempt sulfide mine proposals like PolyMet and Twin Metals from Minnesota solid waste disposal laws. It would still suspend Minnesota’s rules to protect wild rice from sulfate pollution, making it easier to give a permit to sulfide mines near the BWCA.

When we showed up at the Governor’s Residence to ask him to veto this bill, it worked. Now we need to show the Legislature that Minnesota does not want and will not allow them to roll back environmental protections and threaten the Boundary Waters with pollution from copper-nickel sulfide mines.

WHAT: Rally at the Minnesota Legislature to say no to the most anti-environment bill in decades
WHO: You, your signs, your voice, and your energy
WHEN: 10 AM Friday, June 12
WHERE: South entrance of the State Office Building (location of the special session), 100 Rev. Dr. Martin King Blvd., St. Paul, MN 55103
WHY: To ask the Legislature to vote no and show that we won’t stand for environmental rollbacks that threaten the Boundary Waters

The Sierra Club Northstar Chapter is also asking people to tell their legislators to vote no on the bill, providing a link to do so electronically here.

Finally, in related news, this week the Ely Timberjay asked the question “Could Sen. Tom Bakk’s tenure as state Senate Majority Leader be in doubt?” On-the-spot Minnesota Brown covered that issue yesterday, concluding “Bakk is having a make-or-break moment in his political career, and the question now is whether he still has strong enough rapport to hold sway in his own caucus. Failure here would disrupt state government, which is the worse issue, but it would also probably signal the end of the Iron Range senator’s leadership role.”

A petition is circulating at change.org calling on Bakk to resign as Senate Majority Leader:

“You have divided your caucus. After making a deal on an Environment and Agriculture budget that rolled back environmental protections, you relied on the support of nearly 100% of the Senate Republican caucus to pass it. After he vetoed HF846, Governor Dayton stated that the worst provisions in the bill “more emanated from the Senate than they did from the House.” How can that be? 29 of 38 members of your caucus voted against HF846. You are supposed to lead and represent the will of your caucus as majority leader. Instead, you’ve substituted your own agenda for the agenda of your caucus.”

There were 479 signers as of early this morning.

#BenchPolyMet Round Two: Boys’ Tourney Starts Tomorrow!

#BenchPolyMet, share freely

#BenchPolyMet, please download and use freely

By JT Haines — March 3, 2015

Good people of Minnesota and beyond! The Minnesota State Boys’ High School Hockey Tournament starts tomorrow — happy, happy, happy day. Except for one thing — PolyMet Mining Corp will once again be plastering advertisements all over our tournament, at the arena and on TV. That’s not okay. (For more details as to why, check out my original post launching the #BenchPolyMet hashtag here.)

A friend asked me recently — What’s the big deal? Isn’t this the same as any other company advertising?

This unsuspecting goal scorer has an unpaid sponsorship from a controversial international mining company!

This unsuspecting goal scorer has an unpaid sponsorship from a controversial international mining company!

Indeed, just how is this different from McDonald’s advertising during the state tournament? Great question, friend. To be fair, this is a actually a little bit like the Amazon-deforesting purveyors of childhood obesity at McDonald’s pretending they have kids’ health in mind during a kids’ hockey tournament. We shouldn’t allow that either. But there’s yet an additional problem here: PolyMet is currently seeking controversial mining permits in Minnesota, a process involving no fewer than six state and federal agencies, the next EIS for which is evidently expected this spring. In other words, PolyMet’s ad dollars and fabricated images are being tossed around right during this crucial democratic moment for Minnesota. Think that doesn’t have an impact? Clearly PolyMet’s Mad Men don’t agree. Meanwhile, proponents of the project keep insisting that we “let the process work.” Is public bribery and tournament propaganda “letting the process work”? PolyMet is a dangerous company. What they’re doing here is wrong, and it’s just subtle enough to fly under many people’s radar. I think it’s very much worth our attention, and based on the Newspeak Review and #BenchPolyMet traffic during the girls tournament, it looks like I’m not alone. Hoping to see an even greater response from the community during the boys’ tourney.

If you’re into it, here are some options:

  • Use the #BenchPolyMet image (above) for your cover photo on Twitter and Facebook during the tourney.
  • Tweet and post using the #BenchPolyMet.
  • Tweet @MSHSL if you have a message for the league (which ultimately has a lot do with sponsors).
  • Tweet @KSTC45 if you have a message for the TV station carrying the ads.
  • If you’re feeling saucy, tweet @GoPolyMet if you have a message for the permit seeker.
  • If you’re really feeling saucy, how cool would it be to see a #BenchPolyMet sign at the games?

If you agree that PolyMet’s behavior at the tournament is abhorrent, help call foul on this blatant insult to our intelligence and affront to our democracy. (Heads up, I will be up North taking photos for our pondhockeybook.com photo project on the Range this weekend, so won’t be as available to snag photos and create shareable images, but I will be checking for Retweet opportunities.) Feel free to tag @NewpeakReview, @JTH2020, and please use the hashtag #BenchPolyMet. And, best of luck to all the tournament teams this weekend. PolyMet or no, this is a proud proud annual moment for our state, and one that I feel very lucky to be a part of. Happy hockey watching!

###

Unions Speak out Against Senate Rejection of KXL

By JT Haines, November 20, 2014

The Washington Examiner is reporting that certain of the major labor unions and leaders — including Laborers’ Int’l Union of North America, AFL-CIO Building and Trades, and Teamsters — have spoken out against the US Senate rejection of #KeystoneXL, with LIUNA calling it a “vote against all construction workers.” [Washington Examiner]

LIUNA’s position is similar to its position expressed last March in Minnesota in favor of a proposed Enbridge Sandpiper pipeline expansion, which pipeline terminates in the Duluth/Superior Twin Ports. (For excerpts from LIUNA’s spokesperson at that conference, see my post here. )

The stance is also similar to what we’ve seen from numerous, but not all, labor groups in Minnesota with regard to the PolyMet and Twin Metals sulfide mining proposals, which I’ve also written about on numerous occasions on this site.

Pipeline and copper mine proposals are obviously a huge deal in Minnesota right now, and organized labor is a vocal part of the conversation. I’m not an expert on internal union politics or the important differences between labor organizations on these issues, but as I wrote previously, my view of (certain aspects) of organized labor has taken a major hit as I observe what I consider to be a narrow, and often self-satisfied, outlook on some really complicated larger issues that affect us all. I think it’s time for unions to update their constituencies and long-term outlook. Ditch the old narrative and start work on a new one that once again considers society, not just “jobs.”

It will be interesting to see if unions can lead the way on environmental issues with a narrative that is fit for the times.

Post script — Just a quick reminder about what we’re up against, this from a facebook exchange I found myself in today about this issue: “One [the pipeline] has nothing to do with the other [climate change and toxicity]. The organic oil our Mother the Earth provides us with will be bought from the ground regardless of the pipeline. The organic oil our Mother the Earth provides us with will be used by mankind to improve it’s [sic] way of life. That will all happen regardless of the improved safety, improved connivance, improved employment and energy independence the pipeline will bring.” Hazaa.

Naomi Klein and Rethinking PolyMet

By JT Haines, September 24, 2014

“We need an entirely new economic model, and a new way of sharing this planet.” — Naomi Klein, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs the Climate

There are lots of ways that conversations about copper-sulfide mining in Minnesota conclude, some of them less than pretty. But what about where they start?

If we start with the proposition — and I believe we should — that we all share a stake in the health of the air and the water, as well as the soil and trees and habitats, then isn’t it the case that profits taken, and damage caused, by corporations exploiting these resources is at our collective expense? In other words, isn’t that resource-based corporate welfare? (One might argue the entire economy relies on it.)

If so, shouldn’t it follow that subsidizing public institutions (transit, schools, health, etc) by taxing investors who enjoy these profits is not “giving money away to the undeserving poor,” but reimbursing us for our losses?

Mine Sites, courtesy MN DNR

Mine Sites, courtesy MN DNR

More to the point, when it comes to the public resources at issue in the current copper-sulfide mining proposals in Minnesota (PolyMet, TwinMetals), what if we owned 100% of profits, minus a reasonable fee for the work that produced it, rather than multinational corporations owning the profits and paying taxes on a portion of it? (Incidentally, Tony Hayward, of BP Deepwater Horizon infamy, is deeply invested in PolyMet. MinnPost) Would we not then be better able to invest those revenues back into Minnesota, including a sizable fund for any cleanup-related costs and an international fee for carbon-based pollution produced?

If such a narrative were part of our discussion, then perhaps it would be more possible to have a rational conversation about the wisdom of accepting risks to our waters of generations of pollution. Perhaps it would then also be possible to speak both about jobs and environment.

I haven’t heard it. And without such a narrative, the deal has seemed cooked in the company’s favor from the outset.

Naomi Klein in her new book, This Changes Everything, is right — now is the time to “think big, go deep, and move the ideological pole far away from the stifling market fundamentalism that has become the greatest enemy to planetary health.” The PolyMet debate is an opportunity for us do our part by completely reconsidering how we think about public minerals and resources in Minnesota. According to a recent Star Tribune poll, support for the PolyMet proposal is declining. Perhaps we already are.

Time to Value the Water

By JT Haines, March 24, 2014

Excellent commentary in MinnPost this morning, entitled “Water or Sulfide Mining: Which is more valuable?” The piece concludes as follows:

“When one considers the rapidly depleting Oglala Aquifer, growing droughts, and climate change, the value of water can only increase. And yet, we’re seriously considering taking on an industry that promises 500 years of water pollution? That’s foolish.

So, why mine and take the chance of destroying such a rich natural resource, the industries it supports, the value of lake property, and the tax base? This is a case where the minerals are more valuable staying right where they are. The real strategic resource that Minnesota possesses is our water.”

My take: I’m thrilled to see this key part of the nonferrous mining debate being taken up more and more. One of my public comments to the DNR and Governor Dayton on the PolyMet SDEIS was that it is a dramatic failure of the document that it does not consider in earnest the value of the water (used and otherwise at-risk) over the course of the time frames discussed, including the potential impact on such value in the event of future contingencies including shortages, spills, or other catastrophes.

I’m sure project proponents will attack today’s MinnPost commentary for the back-of-napkin nature of the calculations offered — it is certainly not a scientific or complete calculation by any stretch. The authors’ ultimate point, however, is that whatever the figures, we obviously need to be considering all relevant valuations as part of the official process. And I share their intuition that we are dramatically overvaluing the value of the mining, and undervaluing the value of not mining. Incidentally, this intuition is based on decades of collective experience by society with profit-taking resource extractors, so in that sense it is scientific. We know how the costs and the benefits get divvied under the current corporatized system. We don’t have to “wait and see” to figure out how that goes anymore.

Notably, it seems to me that in one sense the calculation they offer in support of their point is actually more generous to the proposed project than is even necessary: The authors roughly compare the value of our water and associated tax and employment base to the expected profits for PolyMet/Glencore (which they peg at $4B based on PolyMet’s projections). For Minnesotans, though, isn’t the important comparison the value of the water (and associated benefits) to the economic impacts from the mining strictly for Minnesota? In other words, the discussed “rosy” 4B number isn’t really even what matters for us, it’s whatever the Minnesota portion of that would be, minus costs. Given the involvement of international stockholders, and the lack of evaluation of the value of leaving the water and other resources alone, you can believe the 4B figure isn’t the one that matters to us.

Simply put, the analysis of the value of water vs the value of mining is not sufficiently present in the official process to date, especially vis a vis the value of leaving certain resources untouched. Thankfully, these authors are among the increasing number of people around Minnesota who are speaking out with the message that that old way of business is over.