sulfide mining

It’s time to #BenchPolymet at the @MSHSL Hockey Tourneys

Tourney 2014 KSTC 45. Big day for this high schooler, getting interviewed on TV by Tom Hauser! Unbeknownst to him, he has a non-paying endorsement deal with a corporate mining company.

Big day for this high schooler, getting interviewed on TV by Tom Hauser! Unbeknownst to him, he has a non-paying endorsement deal with a corporate mining company. (Tourney 2014, KSTC 45)

By JT Haines — February 18, 2015

It’s that time of year. Every year since forever, hockey teams from across Minnesota participate in the greatest tournament of all time: The Minnesota state high school hockey tourney. The 2015 girls’ tourney starts today and runs through Feb 21. The boys’ tourney dates are March 4-7. You can watch the action in person at the Xcel Energy Center in Saint Paul (tickets here) or on TV on KSTC45. I can’t wait.

Also happening right now in Minnesota is agency review of perhaps the most controversial permit application in the history of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. As readers of this site well know, a Canadian corporation called PolyMet (owned substantially by an even larger foreign corporation called Glencore) is in a multi-year permit application process seeking to conduct nonferrous (sulfide) mining in Northern Minnesota.

Trouble is, this would be a new type of mining in Minnesota, more dangerous than taconite/ferrous mining we are more used to. Briefly, instead of producing rust when exposed to air and water like iron ore, sulfide ores produce acid, creating all sorts of habitat risks like the leeching of heavy metals such as mercury into watersheds. Levels of attention to this issue during agency review may be unprecedented. Public comments last winter numbered 58,000, smashing the previous record by a factor of ten. This is a major public moment for Minnesota. (Here is DNR info. See gopolymet.com for the project’s corporate narrative, and miningtruth.org for responses.)

How does this relate to high school hockey, you ask? Well, frankly, that’s a helluva good question. I have the same question for PolyMet.

You see, for at least the past two boys’ tournaments (2013 and 2014), PolyMet has used our public tournament for its own propaganda, placing ads everywhere. Here are two more pictures from last year:

Scoreboard at the X, 2014 State HS Tourney

Scoreboard at the X, 2014 State HS Tourney

Boards at the X, 2014 State HS Tourney

Boards at the X, 2014 State HS Tourney

Wherever you stand on the underlying issue — misappropriating an unsuspecting high school kid’s big day, while the controversial public decision is pending, is simply unethical. Leave these kids alone, and let’m play.

As for the 2015 tourneys, I’m not aware of PolyMet’s plans (they don’t generally consult me), but this banner on http://www.prep45.com from today suggests we can expect more of the same:

PolyMet Banner Ad on KSTC Prep45 Tournament Info page from Feb 18, 2015

PolyMet Banner Ad on KSTC Prep45 Tournament Info page from Feb 18, 2015

So. When we see ads again at our public tournaments, whether the boys’ hockey tournament, girls’ hockey tournament, or other (I noticed them at football this year too), I say it’s time for a response. Let’s #BenchPolyMet.

I invite you to join in:

  • Tweeting and posting on social media using the hashtag #BenchPolyMet. Tag @MSHSL and @KSTC45 for maximum effect. Tag @newspeakreview for retweets.
  • Make a #BenchPolyMet sign. Display it at the tourney — (mega bonus points if you can get it on TV!)

Most of us who care about the integrity of our democracy and public decision making processes in Minnesota don’t have the big bucks that PolyMet does to spread our message, but we have our Minnesota voices. Let’s use ‘em. Attention to PolyMet’s corporate propaganda at the hockey tourneys is growing, and several organizations have already indicated interest in the #BenchPolyMet social media campaign. It’s time to #BenchPolyMet, @MSHSL @KSTC45.

FAQ:

What’s the big deal? I promise you the ad agents for PolyMet think it’s a big deal – why else are they there. The goal of their ads, of course, is to steadily place soft images of PolyMet as a friendly corporate citizen in our collective subconscious, hoping to weaken resolve and our focus on the danger they present to our environment and to their ultimate motive, which is profit. It’s insidious. Pretending to ignore it is not the right response.

Is #BenchPolymet political? Yes. You’re dern right it is – just as PolyMet’s ads are. PolyMet proponents and industry reps are constantly instructing the public to “let the process work” in response to the voicing of legit concerns. Yet, at this key moment of review, PolyMet exploits our tournaments for their ads, seeking to impact our political process. It’s not appropriate.

#BenchPolyMet @MSHSL @KSTC45

Mining Minnesota OpEd Distracts from True Purpose

Mt. Polly Tailings Breach

Mt. Polley tailings breach, British Columbia, August 2014. Photo Credit Caribou Regional District.

By JT Haines — January, 7, 2015

The Mesabi Daily News published an OpEd by Mining Minnesota Executive Director Frank Ongaro on December 20, 2014, and I’d like to take a minute to offer some thoughts in response here on Newspeak Review.

In his OpEd, Mr. Ongaro claims to break down a false choice between “the environment” and “jobs.” I believe he misses the real choice — between elevating the interests of multinational corporations and that of Minnesotans.

First, let’s be clearer than Ongaro about something that should be well understood by now: multinational mining corporations like PolyMet and its chief investor Glencore are not here to support wind turbines, build boats and computers, employ Minnesotans, spare poor people in far off lands, or benefit labor organizations and communities. They are here for profit and to further enrich the wealthy. Suggesting otherwise is a distraction.

The real question is whether we as Minnesotans would be better off with the companies here or without them. Reasonable people obviously disagree about that, so it strikes me that that’s where our focus should be.

Glossy PR images featuring windmills and cell phones do not tell the whole story. From where I sit, I see a terrible record of destruction by the sulfide mining industry, including the recent Mt. Polley tailings disaster in Canada, not to mention anti-labor practices everywhere it operates. (For a statement from United Steelworkers last month on Glencore’s labor practices, check out usw-global-allies-rally-in-london-demand-end-to-glencore-labor-abuses.)

Ongaro references “recycling our scrap metal” but I’ve heard no announcements about shortages of key metals in Minnesota necessitating major ecological risk-taking, or discussions of more comprehensive recycling programs. I observe a lack of conversation – especially from industry PR shills – about whether Minnesotans and Rangers should be better compensated for public lands and resources which some propose compromising in service of the global market.

Perhaps most importantly, I observe increasing environmental and economic turmoil, and a conversation mostly bereft of serious consideration of proposals for local economic diversification that would better serve the Range and the state. Instead, old rhetoric is used to avoid this conversation.

Ongaro’s suggestion that those who use metals (live in society) are disqualified from asserting viewpoints about how we manage public resources is reductive and insulting. We don’t need more “we use metals for stuff” puff pieces. What does “copper is useful” really tell us? Minnesotans understand that we use metals. Commenting on the production, sale, use, and re-use of those resources is not environmental hypocrisy, it’s responsible citizenship.

We all love this place. We all want what’s best for our communities. Many of us believe now is the time to discuss whether business as usual is the way to get there, especially when dealing with companies built to profit by destroying our land and water precisely to the level we allow it.

When pro-Minnesota advocates talk about sustainability, we are not, as Ongaro argues, advocating for a “utopian” vision. We are advocating for the best and healthiest possible future for our communities. And we simply don’t believe that future includes PolyMet and Twin Metals as currently conceived.

The industry, its ultimate motivations clear, wants to convince us that there are no hard choices here – that we can have it all. That just isn’t true. Distraction from the mining industry’s true purpose does us a disservice.

Dawkins: I’ll Stand Up to Corporate Interests

By Andy Dawkins, Green Party Candidate for Minnesota Attorney General

This OpEd was originally published in the Duluth News Tribune, October 16, 2014

For too long we’ve discussed the health of the economy and that of the environment as if they are separate things. They are not. They are part of a whole and are together fundamental to our health and well-being as Minnesotans. Our public conversations need to better reflect that.

Perhaps nowhere is this need made clearer than in the case of the PolyMet copper/sulfide mining proposal (and any that may follow). I am informed that the project will provide 300 to 500 shorter-term jobs. I feel a tremendous sense of responsibility to stand together in support of dignified livelihoods for all. And, as you will learn if you talk with the many people in the organized labor community who know me from my decades of public service, I stand in solidarity with them for workers’ rights.

To me, though, standing for workers’ rights also means looking to the longer term, for I also am advised of a near certainty of unconscionable damage to our waters and habitats associated with the PolyMet proposal. It is the job of the attorney general to protect Minnesota and Minnesota’s resources.

Regarding the drive for sulfide mining in Minnesota, I have heard some politicians — and yes, some union leaders — say, “We’ve always done it this way,” or, “I believe it will work.” With due respect, I believe these individuals may be stuck in an outdated paradigm and are showing a lack of an understanding of where we are in 2014.

We simply can no longer carry on with business as usual. The World Wildlife Fund recently reported we have lost half of our wildlife on this planet in just 40 years due to human exploitation and habitat degradation. Climate change is scientifically confirmed. The world is smaller and our appetites bigger. Can we claim that the multinational PolyMet proposal falls outside the demands of these realities?

The Duluth News Tribune this month published an op-ed about the PolyMet proposal from a Duluth economic development expert and a union leader in which they pointed to dependence on “more than 100 pounds of minerals per day” per person.

Friends, it may be time to ask hard questions not only about how we can consume better but also how we can consume less and reuse more. (In her new book, “This Changes Everything,” Naomi Klein wrote, “Requiring cell phone manufacturers to use recycled metals like copper could save a great many communities from one of the most toxic mining processes in the world.”) That goes tenfold for foreign corporations seeking to line their pockets in our backyards.

I believe we have reached the point where we must acknowledge that feeding a corporate quest for resources in perpetuity is no longer an option for us and that we have no option other than to identify a better way, one where we provide for our families without jeopardizing the very futures we seek to secure. This likely means changing with whom we do business.

There are important things Minnesota’s state attorney general can do for Minnesotans on this issue — for example, voting against PolyMet leases as a member of the Executive Council, voting for divestment from fossil fuels on the State Board of Investments and, perhaps most importantly, asking much harder questions of corporate interests seeking to exploit our resources. I will take those measures if elected attorney general.

But wherever we head next, I want you to know I am here to fight with you for a safe and livable future in the state we love — something I believe should be the top priority of all officeholders and candidates.

Andy Dawkins of St. Paul is a former DFL legislator and attorney who this fall is the Green Party-endorsed candidate for Minnesota attorney general (dawkinsforag.com). The election is Nov. 4. Newspeak Review editor JT Haines is Dawkins’ campaign manager.

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.

The Minnesotan’s Guide to PolyMet’s Top 10 Favorite Talking Points

By JT Haines, March 4, 2014
Republished in MinnPost, March 10

Public debate on the nonferrous mining issue in Minnesota is heated, and will continue to be. Speaking generally, proponents of the current Glencore/PolyMet proposal assert that the value of jobs and tax revenue from the project would be greater than costs. Opponents of the proposal believe that various impacts on Minnesota would outweigh predicted benefits. This is a massively important issue which goes to the very future of our state and economy. In other words, big stuff.

Of course, it’s not always easy to talk about big stuff. So, in the meantime, I find we’re often sorting through talking points, stuff that merely nips at the true weight of the moment, and much of it straight out of the proverbial brochure. So, I give you this Minnesotan’s Guide to PolyMet’s Top 10 Favorite Talking Points:

  1. “Calling it sulfide mining is misleading. It is copper-nickel mining that we are proposing.” First, a glossary of sorts for the uninitiated: It’s “copper-nickel” or “precious metal mining” if you want to emphasize the shiny stuff that would be sold into international markets. It’s “sulfide mining” if you want to emphasize the vast majority of material (sulfide ore) that would actually be mined, and left behind, in order to get the shiny stuff out of Minnesota. And it’s “nonferrous” mining if you want to avoid the whole conversation altogether. The term “nonferrous” mining does also helpfully highlight that this type of mining is different — and potentially far more dangerous — than the “ferrous” (iron ore) mining that has been taking place in Minnesota for over 100 years.
  2. “If it isn’t grown it’s mined”; There is copper in your car/phone/wind turbine. Tom Rukavina stood in front of the DNR public hearing in Saint Paul last month with a brown paper bag and suggested that those opposed to PolyMet should turn over their keys and phones. [MPR] Easy political points of this sort may be available for Tom. But his suggestion that those who use metals (i.e., live in society) are disqualified from asserting political viewpoints as to how we should manage such public resources is flawed. If you use a stove you can oppose fracking. If you take baths, you can oppose the drying up of one of Hibbing’s three city wells by Hibbing Taconite. [Strib] Minnesotans understand that there are metals in consumer goods. But they also wonder, if that’s what this is about, then how much metal do we need?
  3. It’s 2014, technology is improved. There is a problem with this argument, and that is this: it’s true. In fact, at this juncture in history it’s almost a truism. Which makes the talking point all the more problematic, for it has also been true every single other time a mining company has put it forward from the beginning of time and assuredly into the future. There is a powerful incentive to believe that this time it will be okay. But there’s much hubris there too. Fool me twice?
  4. It is hypocrisy to oppose this project in Minnesota, because Third World. Evidently Glencore — international marauder Glencore [BBC] — now cares about Guatemalans, Namibians, and Indonesians. As a Producer on the documentary film Gold Fever, I have spent significant time in a Guatemalan community that contains a Canadian nonferrous mine. From my interactions there, I believe that, yes, our governments and companies should be accountable for the harms they are perpetrating in Guatemala and elsewhere. And, I believe that my friends in Guatemala would be saddened to learn that such unaccountability is being used to divide working-class brothers and sisters in Minnesota as well. Without appropriate nuance and context on this talking point — which in no way currently exists in our Minnesota conversation — we should be embarrassed to carry it forward on behalf of a borderless extractor. Or, better yet, let’s take up the issue of exploitation and oppression in the Global South in earnest.
  5. “Trust the agencies”; “You’re not an environmental engineer”; “Let the process work.” First, mining companies love to lean on the process with one hand while calling for respect of it with the other. They practically invented the strategy. (If you doubt it, ask the DNR or Governor if they’ve received any pressure on this issue during the process, or, observe the company’s many advertisements currently festooning the state high school hockey tournament.) But in any event, I really hope it is obvious that farmers, librarians, native leaders, union reps, poets, and your grandma have a lot to say about this project on subjects that include but are very much not limited to science, whatever the current status of the SDEIS. The “trust the process” argument is strategic, meant to avail itself of the human tendency to succumb to inertia. So, if you oppose the project, don’t believe the hype. (Minor digression: industry reps made a similar argument before the Minnesota Executive Council when mineral leases were up for approval, which was essentially this: “Don’t worry about this now, worry about it later at permitting.” And if and when we reach the permitting stage, look for the following favorite talking point to gain in prevalence…)
  6. “This has been in process for nearly 10 years; Enough is enough!” The review process for a proposal like this one is lengthy. And many are therefore, quite understandably, impatient. What does not follow though is that a company (or agency) at some point reaches a magic amount of time and money spent, at which point it becomes necessary to move it forward…because of time and money. Perhaps PolyMet’s significant time spent more appropriately reflects the volatility of the proposal and is therefore just as good a reason to scrap the whole thing. (Many issues remain regarding the current proposal, including concerning water modeling. [Ely Timberjay]) Or, perhaps the amount of time spent is simply irrelevant. I’d be satisfied with that, and most reasonable proponents do seem to publicly agree. But, privately, the talking point persists.
  7. “Minnesota has the toughest regulations” (and therefore we should mine here). This is a variant of a few of the above. I haven’t really heard of anyone putting together some sort of research to actually back up the statement, but then again, who cares. If our regulations are tough, then good. Let us develop our tradition of protecting clean air and water in the face of pressure to sell. PolyMet’s goal isn’t to mine somewhere with tough regs; its goal is to mine (and undermine regs as it sees fit).
  8. People oppose this project because…Canoes (and that’s not legitimate). Of course it’s not illegitimate to advocate in favor of natural spaces, although I understand why it’s easy to suggest that canoes are less important than people’s livelihoods. The canoe talking point, like many of the others, taps into a real tension involving legitimate and historical regional issues that have yet to be satisfactorily addressed. As such, it is effective if one’s goal is mainly to dampen a conversation, but otherwise it is mostly divisive. For many, “canoes” are not just about recreation; they represent greater connection to place. They help remind us of the beauty of our state, and I think help produce a better chance that we will manage our resources well. (I hesitate to throw around a word like “spiritual,” but yeah, man, it’s spiritual.) And it’s not just about lakes — wetlands, watersheds, habitats, and the survival of species are also on the minds of the people to whom the “canoe” tag has been derisively attached.
  9. Project opponents are ‘environmentalists,’ ‘antis’, ‘anti-mining’, ‘cidiots,’ and ‘metrocrats’. You know you’re in a healthy conversation when these start coming out. First of all, it’s pretty unfair to call people who disagree with you “environmentalists” – we all live here. We all have a legitimate stake. And as Bob Tammen has reasonably pointed out, attacks like these are regularly levied at the very “cidiots” who have been voting pro-worker for years. In any event, I’m not against this project because I’m anti-mining or because I currently live in the city. (For what it’s worth, I grew up down the street from Minntac in Mt Iron. My memories of the Range are fond ones of swimming in the pit and being awestruck at Ironworld.) I’m against this project because I’m anti-Glencore/Polymet. And because I love Minnesota.
  10. If not this, then what? Are you going to care about the Range once this project goes away? So, fair point. We can’t request solidarity in the face of Glencore/PolyMet, and then abandon one another when it comes to finding better alternatives for much needed jobs. I am willing to own that. And, it’s a good segue.

Glencore/PolyMet’s goal isn’t a safe and clean environment. It isn’t to power wind turbines. It’s not to help Guatemalans. And its goal isn’t a sustainable future for the good communities of the Iron Range. It is to make massive amounts of short-term money — money for giant corporate stockholders who don’t live in Virginia, Hibbing, or Hoyt Lakes. The project itself would be, in a regrettably limited sense, about jobs, but I think we would do well to cease with the suggestion that for the transnational corporation it’s about anything more than profit.

Meanwhile, the planet is warming, resources are under increasing duress, and species including our own are threatened. I truly believe that is the type of moment we’re in. (In other words, Glencore/PolyMet, your timing stinks.) So let’s have an authentic conversation about whether we actually need more copper than has already been mined, or whether using recycled or smaller amounts of copper and other materials is in order. Let’s discuss whether we need to own fewer cars and cell phones in Minnesota, or whether we really do need mining here in order to more safely power the future. And if we determine that we must mine, let’s do so as Minnesotans and decide for ourselves the when, where, how, and by whom.

While challenging perhaps beyond any of our experience, I believe these to be the conversations which stand the best chance of bringing Minnesotans back together. Not talking points from the corporate brochure.