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.

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