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.

Sulfide mining’s jobs are temporary, but its pollution will stay in our waterways

By JT Haines, Lee Markell, Dylan Nau and Ijaz Osman | July 18, 2013
Re-Published in MinnPost, July 18, 2013

Photo by Jacob S. Pool

Like many Minnesotans, we’ve been camping in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCA) every summer for years, several of us for a quarter century or more. Some of us used to live in the Arrowhead, but all of us share a certain unspoken feeling heading north, when deciduous turns to boreal. We appreciate that our great state can still offer us a place where you can catch a fish, and drink the water – right out of the side of a canoe! (A lotta guys don’t favor the exclamation point. Or sarcasm. But it hasn’t escaped our attention that we can no longer do either of these things in the Twin Cities, which we think merits an exception.)

Without exaggeration, we feel that the Boundary Waters enhances our humanness. The question that challenges us today is: How many places like it do we need? How many are left?

In their excellent July 7 letter to the International Joint Commission regarding sulfide mines, the Minnesota Backcountry Hunters and Anglers express their opposition to proposed sulfide mine projects in Northern Minnesota, which would leach sulfuric acid into waterways, the lifeblood of Northern Minnesota’s economy, for up to 2,000 years. The group points out, correctly, that the jobs are temporary, the bulk of the profits will flow elsewhere, and the “toxic legacy of damaged waterways” will remain with us here, in Minnesota.

We thank the Hunters and Anglers for their letter, and couldn’t agree more. It passes our understanding that we would threaten this environment at all – let alone at the demand and benefit of foreign companies and mostly non-local investors. It seems to us that the value of existing jobs and clean land and water vastly outweigh the prospect of a few temporary jobs. Since when do we fancy ourselves a Banana Republic, accepting pennies on the dollar from outsiders and colonizers? Since when do we take their word for it?

We understand and celebrate the pride of the Arrowhead, and we respect the special right of Northern Minnesotans to speak first about this part of the state. But this place stays with us also, even when we are 200 miles away. We hope these words are received as an act of solidarity.

We have reached a crossroads. We’ve always needed jobs. We’ve always needed to eat, and drink. But we question the wisdom of carrying on as we are. “They” want pipelines, and sulfide mines, and frac sand mines, in our state. They will promise a few temporary jobs, maybe a tiny share of the profits, but they cannot promise that our Minnesota — our food, communities, schools, and water — won’t change forever.

We respectfully stand with those saying no. And importantly, we believe this stance should include doing right by those communities in need of economic development. There has to be a better way for Minnesota.

JT Haines of St. Paul (Newspeak Review editor); Lee Markell, Eagan; Dylan Nau, New Brighton; and Ijaz Osman, Elk River, submitted this commentary on behalf of the Bound Hounds group, which also includes signers Lindsay Dean, St. Paul; Tommy Haines, Iowa City; Thom Haines, Eden Prairie; Joe Krekeler, Minneapolis; Emily Little, Hopkins; Brent Livingood, Hopkins; Nate Markell, Minneapolis; Jodi Monson, Minneapolis, Jacob Pool, Minneapolis, Aaron Stoehr, Minneapolis, and Erin Todd, Rochester.