boundary waters

Twin Ports Banker Weighs in on USFS Lease Renewal Question

By JT Haines — July 31, 2016

Brian Waldoch is a banker in the Twin Ports area of Minnesota and Wisconsin. He recently attended the US Forest Service listening session in Duluth on July 13, on the question of whether or not the USFS should renew federal mineral leases currently held by Twin Metals. (Twin Metals Minnesota LLC is a wholly owned operating subsidiary of the Chilean company Antofagasta PLC, “one of the top 10 copper producers in the world.” The leases concern land in the Superior National Forest in Minnesota, and would be required for a proposed copper/sulfide mining project to move forward.)

After the session, Waldoch submitted his own comment to the USFS, published here with permission, edited for length.

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The famous economist Adam Smith said that we are all motivated by self interest.

I attended the public comment session held at the DECC in Duluth earlier this month and the arguments I heard boiled down to: 1.) The BWCA is a special place and we should do everything we can to protect it, and the region’s drinking water is at risk. 2.) The Range is struggling economically and we should support the people, families and their way of life. Both have merit, both are important. We could debate which one is more important until we are blue in the face but that isn’t what this is about.

This is about the likelihood of outcomes. On one end, there is the possibility that the mine returns economic stability to the Range for generations and the technologies used to develop the mine do not pollute the BWCA or Lake Superior. On the other, the mine brings jobs for one generation and does irreparable damage do the BWCA, ruining the ecosystem and polluting Lake Superior to the point that it is undrinkable. The likely outcome lies somewhere in between.

“The self interest is the same as for all companies: Profit.”

If you, like Adam Smith, believe that people and corporations are motivated by self interest, it is clear that it is more likely than not that the BWCA will end up damaged and Lake Superior polluted. We are very familiar with the interests of the people who live here. But what of the company?

At the session, I did not hear anyone representing Twin Metals that would speak about the self interest of the company. This is concerning to me because they have the most to gain from this proposal and completely control the outcome. I think it is safe to assume what their self interest is, it is the same as for all companies: Profit. Quick, painless profit. The flashiest presentation we’ve ever seen won’t change this basic reality.

What does this mean for us and the likelihood of outcomes?  What it means is that the company’s interest is to build a mine and strip it of all of its resources as fast as possible, and as cheaply as possible. That’s how their shareholders reward them. That is how they determine how successful the mine is. Sure they will boast that they did it environmentally “safe,” but really what they mean to say is “we complied with the law.” But the law doesn’t have billions of dollars studying the outcomes and does not know the true environmental impacts until it is too late.

“If there is a corner to be cut in the name of profit that sacrifices the environment, rest assured, it will be cut.”

What is perhaps the most alarming to me about this whole situation is that the Twin Metals’ self-interest is directly opposed to the miner’s self interest. The miners believe that this mine will bring economic stability for generations, when really the mine is motivated to keep it open for a short as possible. This just kicks the can down the road so that our children can have this debate 20 years from now. Twin Metals’ self interest is to pay as little as possible for a short as possible. The mine will only keep the BWCA and Lake Superior as clean and quiet as it legally has to. If there is a corner to be cut in the name of profit that sacrifices the environment, rest assured, it will be cut.

“We carry all the risk and little reward.”

All this boils down to this: if we approve this mine, we are placing our trust in a global corporation’s self interest to make the best decisions for our people and our environment. They have all reward and little risk. We carry all the risk and little reward.

All we need to do to validate Adam Smith’s assumptions is to look around the world in countries where there are fewer environmental laws — it is obvious, the mine companies’ self interest is alive and well and environmentally friendly and economically stable mines are not.

We only have one opportunity to not mess this up. Please make the right decision and do not renew the mineral leases.

Thank you,

Brian Waldoch

Brian Waldoch lives in Duluth with his spouse and works in Superior. He is an avid hunter, fisher, and camper, and a lifelong resident of the state. Reader note: Brian and I are friends; he attended the listening session at my invitation. The comment and decision to submit are his.
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PolyMet Review Not Like Poker

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By JT Haines – December 6, 2015

I clicked the link in the above tweet this morning and took a look at Mining Minnesota’s stock comment to Governor Dayton with industry’s reasons why the Final EIS is “beyond adequate.” (Full text of the comment is below.) My purpose here is to simply offer a quick response to the first two of these “reasons,” which have been persisting in the discussion for years despite a lack of any real value.

MM’s Reason #1: “The Co-lead Agencies have spent 10 years evaluating potential project effects and alternatives.”

Yes, it has taken a long time. Simply put – having spent 10 years on something isn’t a reason to keep doing it. Really, the fact that the project has required 10 years to evaluate is no more a reason to move forward with it than it is a reason not to move forward with it. This isn’t poker, we’re not pot committed.

MM’s Reason #2:  “The Final EIS responds in detail to thousands of public comments and questions submitted during the review periods for the Draft EIS and the Supplemental Draft EIS.”

This is, again, simply a reiteration of the stage of the process we’re in — not a substantive point for or against anything. Comments have been submitted (a record number against, actually), and comments have been responded to –that’s the point of the process. So, again,”Lots of time has already been spent on this” is not a reason to DO anything. (By the way, remind me never to take investment advice from Mining Minnesota: “JT, you’ve lost so much money on this stock, obviously you must invest more.”)

Repeat them ad nauseum if you will, but these “the process is lengthy” arguments remain logically empty — they don’t actually mean anything other than this thing has already cost us all a lot of time and money.

At some point, if it still looks like a turkey…

Finally, @GoPolyMet’s tweet mentions bringing “hundreds of #jobs to the area,” so I’ll conclude with this: Spending millions of dollars adding 350 jobs — jobs beholden to a gigantic, foreign, anti-union mining conglomerate (Glencore XStrata) and a volatile international metals market — while in the midst of our own extremely challenging time where we’re losing far more than 350 existing mining jobs, would not on its face appear to be a sensible jobs program, if that’s what this is supposed to be. We can do better.

For the full text of the Final EIS and fact sheets, or to comment, visit DNR.
For Mining Minnesota’s full suggested comment to the Governor, click here. The text is also below.
For Mining Truth’s full suggested comment to the Governor (and response to the remainder of Mining Minnesota’s comment), click here.

 

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TELL THE MINNESOTA DEPARTMENT OF NATURAL RESOURCES YOU SUPPORT THE FINAL EIS FOR POLYMET

Final EIS for PolyMet’s NorthMet Mine is beyond adequate
The Final EIS for PolyMet’s proposed mine concludes a thorough and independent review of the project’s potential environmental effects. After 10 years of study, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and U.S. Forest Service have looked at the evidence and correctly found that the NorthMet Mine can comply with strict state and federal environmental standards.
The Final EIS for the NorthMet Mine is far beyond “adequate.” It takes a careful and comprehensive look at the project from every angle.
– The Co-lead Agencies have spent 10 years evaluating potential project effects and alternatives.
– The Final EIS responds in detail to thousands of public comments and questions submitted during the review periods for the Draft EIS and the Supplemental Draft EIS.
– The project’s water modeling—which was fully updated for the Final EIS—shows that PolyMet’s treatment and mitigation plans will prevent acid mine drainage and meet all water quality standards.
– After careful review, the Final EIS concludes that groundwater flows from the NorthMet project will not directly, indirectly, or cumulatively affect the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness or Voyageurs National Park, and that any possible groundwater flow would be prevented.
– The Final EIS also specifically considered the project’s potential effects on air quality and water quality with respect to human health, and identified no adverse health risks.
– In short, the Final EIS meets all of the requirements of the Minnesota Environmental Policy Act and the National Environmental Policy Act.
The time has come to move forward. The DNR should affirm the adequacy of the Final EIS so it can serve as the foundation for the state of Minnesota’s permitting process.

 

 

 

 

“Mining the Energy of the MN Boys’ State Hockey Tourney”: A Message from PolyMet

By JT Haines — March 4, 2015

As readers of this site know, I have taken issue with PolyMet’s advertising at the Minnesota State HS Hockey tournaments, and have been promoting the hashtag #BenchPolyMet for use on social media during the tournaments for further public discourse on the matter. Traffic on Newspeak Review has reached record levels each day I have posted about this. (For earlier posts, including a sharable #BenchPolyMet image, click here and here.)

Well, we need not speculate any further about PolyMet’s own thoughts about their ad campaign at the state tournament. Minutes ago, PolyMet delivered this message concerning its involvement — with the fairly remarkable title “Mining the Energy of the MN Boys’ State Hockey Tourney” — reprinted here in full (emphasis mine):

From: PolyMet Mining [mailto:info@polymetmining.com]
Sent: Wednesday, March 04, 2015 11:42 AM
To: [Redacted]
Subject: Mining the Energy of MN Boys’ State Hockey Tourney

polymet

It’s tournament time!

Like many of you, we’re eager for Minnesota Boys’ State High School Hockey Tournament action this week.

We’re proud to be a major supporter of the Minnesota State High School League State Tournaments, allowing statewide live broadcasts and online streaming of tournament games. Follow those live streams here.

We’re also looking forward to the Environmental Impact Statement for the PolyMet Project being completed, with permitting to follow this year. We’d enjoy your support, too.

Follow us on social media. @GoPolyMet #PolyMet

At the games? Visit us at the PolyMet Mining booth on the concourse. We’ll have more information on the project and other materials on hand, and some giveaways too—all while we celebrate this season of hard work, long hours and possibly a few good puck bounces.

There you have it. PolyMet would like to mine your energy, would enjoy your support, and would like you to associate PolyMet and the upcoming EIS completion with our fair state hockey tournament. Public lobbying concerning their controversial mine proposal will be taking place right there in the concourse at the games for your convenience, to complement the friendly voice you will hear from time to time in the arena and on TV with messages about how much PolyMet cares about you and your community.

Responses to this propaganda campaign — particularly in light of the key moment we’re in for regulatory review — are certainly in order, whether directed to the league, the company, or elected officials, and I hope some take a little time to make sure their positions about this are heard. In the meantime, enjoy some great hockey this weekend folks, and remember to use the hashtag #BenchPolyMet.

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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.

Water is the New…Water

By JT Haines, August 7, 2013
Re-published in MinnPost August 8, 2013

NoCal and SoCal are grappling about piping water southward (LA Times), the Colorado River is “severely threatened by human overuse” (MIT), and Waukesha Wisconsin wants to draw 9 million gallons of water per day from Lake Michigan because of “a depleted aquifer and rising concentrations of carcinogenic radium in the water” (Triple Pundit). These are just a few results of a brief and obviously non-comprehensive internet search regarding the ways in which our water sources may be threatened. That water is currently flowing from your faucet does not alter the basic reality that our most precious of resources is simply not unlimited nor invulnerable.

Meanwhile, in my beloved Minnesota, the foreign-owned Polymet Mining Corp wants to operate a new type of mine which will threaten the Lake Superior Watershed with toxins. According to MiningTruth.org: “To date, mining companies are unable to point to a sulfide mine that has ever been developed, operated and closed without producing polluted drainage from its operations. Yet studies show that the companies and state agencies reviewing mine plans consistently predict no pollution will occur during the planning and permitting process.” (More from me on the subject here.)

Sulfide mining is not the only activity threatening our water, but it is a new and serious one, and it is as good a starting place as any for the pivot that needs to happen. Water is the new water, friends, and I’m afraid we just can’t take it for granted anymore. Whether through observation or research or even intuition, it’s time to accept that there’s a problem.

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South Kawishiwi River, Photo Credit Bound Hound Joe Krekeler