“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.

Observations from the House Hearing on Nonferrous Mining

House Committee on Mining and Outdoor Recreation Policy, Feb 3, 2015

House Committee on Mining and Outdoor Recreation Policy, Feb 3, 2015

By JT Haines — February 4, 2015

The new House Mining and Outdoor Recreation Policy Committee of the MN legislature held an “informational hearing” yesterday on nonferrous mining, with presentations from Mining Minnesota, PolyMet, and Twin Metals, and then some limited public testimony. I was in attendance. Some brief observations:

1. Firstly, Aaron Brown was pretty much spot on with his advance prediction in MinnesotaBrown:

I expect something of a dog and pony show in the mining and outdoor recreation committee today. There could be valuable nuggets of information and intrigue, but one would have to invest a lot of time removing a significant amount of political overburden before processing the raw ore of knowledge.

Yeah, that’s right. Regarding those few nuggets of information and intrigue:

2. Rep. Tom Anzelc had the closest thing to a “wow” moment at the hearing when he went on a mini and somewhat oddly timed rant about the MiningTruth billboard on I35. Evidently he really doesn’t like the dern thing. Says it’s political. (Not mentioning, I’d add, the loads of industry advertisements across our state, including at the state h.s. hockey tournament, which are inherently political of course. More on that soon.) @FriendsBWCAW tweeted the following response: “We’re glad to hear that Rep. Anzelc has noticed our billboard on Hwy 35. He should check out the website.”

3. The points of view of various committee members are fairly well known and were on display as well. Range reps Melin and Metsa were cozy as ever, at one point enjoying a note passing with Anzelc during the Twin Metals presentation. Big smiles; the moment stood out. Chairman Hackbarth limited public testimony following the industry presentations to 34 minutes, explicitly excluding Q&A time which had been provided for the industry reps. The moment drew an audible reaction from the audience, who also didn’t fail to notice that much of those 34 minutes were then consumed by pro-industry testimony and chit chat from committee members. The first three testifiers were pro-industry. The hearing was adjourned at the scheduled time of 4:30.

4. Rep. Yarusso lobbed in a few questions (necessary minimum?) about industry testimony, including the oft-discussed question about water modeling, which question was ultimately punted to the regulators. Yarusso may be the lone voice on the committee willing to subject industry claims to any real scrutiny. Remains to be seen.

5. No major surprises in any of the above. That said, there is a development which took further shape yesterday meriting a mention. The Laurentian Divide — the north/south continental water divide which runs through N. MN —  appears to be increasing in political significance in a way that could have a meaningful impact on this issue. A good amount of the testimony yesterday was from the Ely area and focused on Twin Metals and/or the BWCA. The PolyMet operation, as I understand it, would primarily be in the Lake Superior watershed, i.e., south of the divide. We’ll see whether and to what degree “north of the divide” groups are willing to throw broader clean water interests under the bus. Folks are of course welcome to their own financial and strategic decisions, but I for one think a divide here is the wrong strategy for all those concerned about sulfide mining in Minnesota, and a long-term loser. Dividing and conquering isn’t exactly a new idea. And as we saw yesterday, opportunities for clean water advocates to testify publicly are at a premium. Public testimony which distances itself from the PolyMet part of the issue is not a zero sum proposition.

6. Regarding more broadly applicable testimony, Betsy Daub’s (Friends of the BWCA) was exceptional. She was the first to raise last summer’s Mt. Polley sulfide mine tailings dam disaster in Canada. And given the numerous claims from industry reps about safety, perhaps Mt. Polley should have been raised earlier. The committee, however and to its credit, did agree Mt. Polley requires further investigation.

To conclude, any “divide” which may develop along geographic lines is in my opinion the most important thing to watch coming out of yesterday’s hearing. Most of the other tunes in the room didn’t change a note. View the full hearing here.

[Thanks to Greg Seitz and the Wilderness News Blog for the mention in his “Top Tweets from the Hearing list, which you can find here.]

UPDATE: I received a call from Becky Rom at Sustainable Ely this afternoon in response to this piece. She assured me that, as far as she is concerned, no geographic divide is taking place and that yesterday’s hearing testimony was coordinated among advocacy groups to the greatest degree possible, including with Friends of the Boundary Waters. She added “we have to fight all sulfide mining” in Minnesota.

I also received the following note from Tony Yarusso, Rep. Yarusso’s son: “From the maps I’ve seen, the entirety of the (open pit) PolyMet proposal would be in the Lake Superior watershed, or at a minimum all of the storage and processing. For the (underground) Twin Metals proposal, mining would be in the Hudson Bay watershed, but materials would be transported to the PolyMet facility location for processing. The location of processing and underground vs. open pit is significant (and good) for the BWCA portion of the equation, but it’s not like water in the southern watershed doesn’t matter obviously. Most significantly, Lake Superior has a commercially important lake trout fishery that has only recently rebounded from overfishing and sea lamprey problems, and the St. Louis River (the sub-watershed the mine would be in) has just had its first evidence of sturgeon reproduction after many years of work restoring both habitat and water quality from past impacts there.”