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Murphy for Clean Water? Reflections on #DFL2018

June 4, 2018 — By JT Haines

As expected, most clean water delegates entered the 2018 DFL State Convention supporting Rebecca Otto. This was certainly true of the Duluth delegation, with whom I work most closely. Clean water advocates have appreciated Rebecca Otto’s important defense of our watersheds and Minnesota’s taxpayers, and she has helped elevate the critical Glencore/PolyMet issue statewide. As far as I can tell, the majority of statewide Democrats actually agree with the outgoing Auditor on her underlying position on copper sulfide mining. Where we sometimes disagree is how, when, and whether to emphasize the issue politically. Clean water advocates, especially those downstream, say now, of course, and Rebecca Otto has helped with that.

After three short rounds of voting at the convention, though, and with the Otto campaign placing third and dropping from balloting, most clean water delegates were quickly considering Erin Murphy for governor, and almost all did vote to endorse her. How did this happen? And what should clean water voters around the state think about this turn?

Well firstly, Rebecca Otto entering the convention floor hand in hand with Tim Walz, right in front of a core of CD8 supporters, did not serve the purpose either campaign had hoped. It was a shocking move, with a truly unfortunate visual, and it certainly truncated people’s grieving period. For most outside the campaign, we wanted to see Team Otto marshall her moment in a more productive manner for the issues we care about. (Those inside the campaign have a different set of considerations, of course.)

But let’s talk about the now DFL-endorsed candidate for governor, Erin Murphy. There is a lot to like about Rep. Murphy and her running mate Rep. Erin Maye Quade. I’ll let friends who know them both better speak to the wide range of important issues the campaign stands for, but one can at least immediately say that they are progressive women who are energizing a diverse coalition. The ground game Saturday was stellar, a reflection of Rep. Murphy herself who has appeared confident, competent, and charismatic.

In terms of issues, health care is one of the most important of our time, and Rep. Murphy is a supporter of Senator John Marty’s Minnesota Health Plan, the strongest position among the DFL candidates on that issue. Yes, dozens of Minnesota legislators did support the MHP before Rep. Murphy did — a point that could legitimately be made by earlier adopters like Rep. Tina Liebling if they were so inclined.

But with that said, we are where we are, and Rep. Murphy supports the MHP now. The Minnesota Nurses’ Association, one of Rep. Murphy’s most important sources of support, is leading the way with Sen. Marty on single-payer health care, including in the streets, and they will have plenty to say about how a Murphy administration approaches the issue. If explained correctly, this position should help Team Murphy reach farmers, business owners, young people, and union members across greater Minnesota.

And, not for nothing, when Erin Murphy dances on stage it feels real, not forced or self-involved. I’ll be honest, that’s a refreshing look from a politician. Her speaking style on the radio I find effective and accessible as well.

All of these things will help Democrats in August and November.

The reservation about Representative Murphy among clean water advocates is that, in our minds, there are Democrats who address the Glencore/PolyMet threat directly, and there are Democrats who have sought to avoid and suppress it as a legitimate political priority. Rep. Murphy has, in the not distant past, seemed to be in the latter camp. Campaign volunteers have at times been dismissive of the issue on the phone, and the official line from the campaign is the “process” response, which advocates recognize as a means to say as little as possible on the issue, whatever its level of importance.

While we don’t agree with that strategy, of course, we can at least understand why it appears attractive in the short term. Choosing between a difficult political choice, and a catastrophic issue position, is a terrible place to be, and it is for that reason that I do have sympathy for people like State Chair Ken Martin (who should also be congratulated along with many others on a superbly run convention). The problem with the “process” approach, though, at least for the increasing number of voters who prioritize this issue, is that it does not address the legitimate concerns people have with the process itself, how it has failed, and how it will likely fail again. Plenty more to say about that, to be sure.

To their credit, though, Team Murphy started having this conversation with clean water advocates before the convention, and a commitment to continuing the conversation was made, making her a much easier second choice for delegates and someone we can hope to work with. There are, it should also be said, highly committed members of Team Murphy who are also highly fluent on Glencore/PolyMet and the threat those foreign billionaires pose, which gives me some comfort.

Does any of this guarantee that Rep. Murphy will be a friend of Lake Superior as Governor? Of course not — but we know enough to know that’s not how politics works. Issue advocacy is accomplished through good work on deeply felt positions. Political advocacy is accomplished through evolving power and relationships. My view is that based on what we know today there is room to work with the Murphy campaign, and I for one am encouraged by that.

I think it’s okay to be encouraged once in a while.

Speaking of which, all of our Duluth Mayor and legislators have endorsed Team Murphy, as have AFSCME, MNA, TakeAction, and many other organizations who are prominent in Duluth and statewide politics. These players don’t always prioritize our watershed the way we do, and that has been frequently disappointing, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a priority for them at all. Perhaps I’m suffering from a moment of giddiness in the wake of an extremely active convention that will have me looking foolish sometime in the future, but for now it is a pleasure and frankly relief to be sharing a direct commonality of electoral interest with these folks. I hope that proves to be more than a blip.

All of this is to say, I think the meaningful support of Team Murphy shown by clean water advocates at the convention should be considered by my clean water friends for the longer term as well. Firm commitments on an issue that we consider an existential threat to our communities are desired, understandably, but we should also consider the advantages that that an energized Murphy campaign — which can progress on the water issue — may offer.

In any case, that’s where we’re at. The Erins are endorsed by the body, and the clean water delegates helped accomplish that. Glencore/PolyMet is an unacceptable threat to our precious water, and no political convention or alliance is going to change that core position. The best first option moving forward is to find ways to work together with Team Murphy while we continue our staunch issue organizing in parallel.

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A note about the Walz/Flanagan campaign. For the good things that may be said about Tim Walz, he has adopted — many assume directly — Rick Nolan’s approach to the Glencore/PolyMet issue, which regrettably has rendered his campaign facially unacceptable to most clean water voters. His convention strategy in Rochester reflected one of noise and brute force — a notable contrast with the positivity of the Murphy campaign — alienating many who were not wearing yellow. The core union support for the Walz campaign, in contrast to that of Rep. Murphy, tends to be from those who are the most vocally in support of the dangerous Glencore/PolyMet proposal — and that proposal, it should be said, in its best incarnation would tear up thousands of acres of critical habitat and of wetlands which currently serve as a carbon sink. (PolyMet’s proposal is not, as Rick Nolan has unbelievably suggested, a “climate solution,” it’s a climate catastrophe, and that’s the best case scenario.) US Senate candidate Richard Painter has it right. Glencore cannot be trusted under any circumstance. If they are given a foothold here, it will be “all bottled water and chain link fence” in Northern Minnesota. Tim Walz needs to abandon this marriage to have any hope of earning the enthusiastic support of clean water Democrats, and, more and more every day, Minnesota Democrats in general.

The unity path forward is to respect all communities, including those downstream, and the promise there is in the Flanagan portion of the ticket. Peggy Flanagan is a popular and progressive state representative, remarkably positive, and a staunch defender of wild rice and the sulfate standard which Glencore/PolyMet seeks to weaken — a matter to which she brings particular credibility as a woman of indigenous heritage. At this point I see her presence on the ticket as something to celebrate. In the event Walz does manage a primary victory in August, I suggest clean water folks will want to champion and promote Rep. Flanagan as co-governor.

[Update: Lori Swanson and Rick Nolan filed as well. To be clear, they may be able to buy some votes with TV money, but they are also an absolute non-starter for clean water voters and others. It will be a disaster for the DFL if that ticket succeeds in August.]

JT Haines is a lawyer, labor supporter, and clean water advocate in Duluth. A former union representative with AFSCME Council 65, JT is a volunteer organizer with Duluth for Clean Water and a member of its active committees. He has been writing about the PolyMet issue in Minnpost, the Duluth News Tribune, and on this blog since 2013.

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Coalition Proposes $1Billion Area Investment in Lieu of PolyMet

DULUTH, MN / March 27, 2018 / 1:58PM / PR Newswire — In a major new development, a coalition of candidates, elected officials, and labor organizations in Northern Minnesota has announced a proposal for a $1 billion investment in solar and wind manufacturing, broadband, mined copper recovery, and passenger rail, in lieu of what has come to be recognized as a beleaguered, divisive, and dangerous proposal from international copper mining company, PolyMet Inc.

“It’s time we came together with a way forward that works for the whole area,” said one coalition member. “This is exactly what’s needed. We’re working on the right mix of proposals as we speak.”

“$1 billion? That’s what the Vikings stadium cost, that’s the current PolyMet ‘financial assurances’ number,” said another. “If that’s what it takes to fix this mess, that’s absolutely something we can do. Anyway this is a far better option cost-wise than anything currently on the table.”

“It’s time to move forward with good, safe, long-term opportunities in Northern Minnesota. We’re doing this.”

Tony Hayward, of BP Deepwater Horizon infamy and Board Chair of PolyMet’s major investor Glencore, could not be reached for comment.

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Mount Polley and PolyMet: What happened in Canada must not happen here

By JT Haines, Bridget Holcomb and Libby Bent | 02/26/18

Final permit decisions on PolyMet’s proposed NorthMet Mining Project are approaching, and for all the celebration of the process by politicians and company promoters here in Minnesota, we have grave concerns. We bring this message from Duluth, where we live downstream of the proposed PolyMet mine.

Last week we welcomed a delegation from Amnesty International to discuss their experience with a British Columbia copper sulfide mine upstream of their own communities. This is a group that has heard it all before: promises of safety from mining companies, claims of new technology that isn’t, guarantees of zero discharge, and assurances from government officials that it will all be fine.

Unfortunately, in 2014, the dam upstream of them collapsed, sending toxic water and tailings into nearby Quesnel Lake, effectively turning the pristine lake into a waste pit. The Mount Polley dam breach is the worst environmental disaster in Canadian history, and it is ongoing.

Local people who drank straight from the lake now drink bottled water out of fear of cancer, miscarriages, and neurological disorders. Indigenous communities are currently sitting out their fourth consecutive salmon season, a resource as important to them as wild rice is here. These downstream communities have seen no justice.

Troubling similarities

JT Haines

While this is a Canadian story, we are shaken by the similarities. The companies promised safety, but at every turn have promoted their bottom line over best practices and best technology. Government officials repeated assurances of a rigorous environmental process, but have granted continuous exceptions and variances to the company. Unbelievably, downstream communities, including indigenous communities, were not consulted on emergency response planning.

The Amnesty delegation urges us to avoid blind faith in regulatory regimes that are conflicted in mission, limited in scope, lax in enforcement, subject to regulatory capture, and which have yet to protect surrounding waters from this particularly toxic industry. British Columbians believed in their process, and that trust was shattered.

Bridget Holcomb

Here in Minnesota, PolyMet has said that the comparison between its proposal and Mount Polley is unfair, citing that the slope on its proposed tailings dam would be less steep. The Mount Polley dam failure, however, was not attributed to the steepness of the slope, but to an unstable foundation. If permitted, the PolyMet dam would be built on unstable taconite tailings on top of a wetland, at a height of nearly twice that of Mount Polley, with an upstream wet tailings design. DNR’s own consultants have pointed out the similarities. PolyMet officials either did not read the Mount Polley Independent Expert Investigation and Review Report, or they are trying to deceive Minnesotans.

Libby Bent

You might ask, where are our elected officials? Despite the clear importance to her city, Duluth Mayor Emily Larson has so far declined to publicly assert our stake in this matter. (Notably, neighboring Carlton City passed a resolution last week expressing its stake and requesting a moratorium on sulfide mining in Minnesota until a 20-year record of safety is shown.) Gov. Mark Dayton has made baffling statements that oppose sulfide mining as too dangerous for the Boundary Waters but are generally supportive of it where Duluth and Lake Superior would be at risk. Our own Rep. Rick Nolan has promoted legislation that would force a land swap to allow mining on federal lands, limit environmental review of copper sulfide mine proposals, and stop scientific study of the cumulative effects of copper sulfide mining in northern Minnesota.

For their part, the Minnesota Legislature and DNR seem unclear between them whose job it is to actually decide if this is a good or bad idea for Minnesota. Sadly, our own confidence in our elected officials and government is in jeopardy.

Driving a wedge between us

We appreciate that the boom and bust cycles on the Iron Range make the promise of new mining jobs attractive. PolyMet is capitalizing on this and dividing all of us who live in northern Minnesota by playing to emotions of trust and heritage. It is painful to see a foreign corporation drive a wedge between us, despite our shared values, and obscure the facts on which this decision should be based.

This is what PolyMet does not want us to know:

The record of sulfide mining is abysmal. Worldwide, the industry has failed and failed again to store its waste, and has left a legacy of rivers devoid of life from mining waste settling into riverbeds, ensuring that toxic heavy metals will continue to prevent life for centuries. While we may want to believe we have stronger oversight and regulations, performance in the US is horrid. According to the U.S. Forest Service 2016 study, 100 percent of sulfide mines have had spills, and 28 percent have, like Mount Polley, had outright dam failures. A 2017 U.N. report shows that catastrophic spills are actually increasing, as mining companies seek to lower costs and increase profits.

Glencore, PolyMet’s main investor, has a history of broken promises and abuse of union workers and communities across the globe. Worldwide this industry is replacing workers with robots. This is not how we continue Minnesota’s proud union tradition.

At the recent public hearing in Duluth, several PolyMet supporters borrowed a well-worn talking point and tried to shame opponents for using copper in cellphones and cars. Rarely included with such statements is the fact that we Americans throw away more copper every year than the proposed PolyMet mine would produce. To those who are truly concerned about how much copper is being used by consumers: Copper is infinitely recyclable and in abundant supply, and recycling creates jobs and reduces carbon emissions.

Our truly precious resource

The truly precious resource we have in northern Minnesota is our freshwater complex, which includes the headwaters of Lake Superior and 10 percent of the world’s supply of fresh surface water.

It is too late for Mount Polley, and we stand in solidarity with our Canadian friends as they fight for reparations for the unmeasurable harm caused to them.

It is not too late for us. It is not too late to protect northern Minnesota from a catastrophic, irreversible decision that does not have the consent of downstream communities.

The DNR is now accepting comments on the draft permit to mine for PolyMet. Please comment before March 6, and tell the DNR, elected officials, and candidates around the state that this proposal is simply too risky for Minnesota and for Lake Superior.

PolyMet has divided us for too long. It is time for Minnesota to act, and to identify a better option. We stand ready to support leadership that would unify us around true economic development that celebrates our history without risking our future.

JT Haines, Bridget Holcomb, and Libby Bent are residents of Duluth and members of the group Duluth for Clean Water, which welcomed a delegation from Amnesty International to Duluth on Feb. 12 and 13.

This piece also appeared in MinnPost on February 23, 2018.

PolyMet Review Not Like Poker

IMG_0244

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.

 

 

 

 

The Growing Defense of the State Auditor is Great, but Where Does it Leave Us?

By JT Haines — June 4, 2015

So, we rush to the fairly obvious defense of our State Auditor, get some ridiculous provisions removed from law (STrib summary of the underlying issue here), and some of us even score a few mostly-cost-free political points for doing so. Yay! I’m all for getting that nasty business handled. But I’ll admit some concern. When we’ve succeeded in reversing the ridiculousness (which on this matter I believe we will), where does that leave us? Have we gone far enough? Are we ahead of where we were, or in reality behind? Have the *causes* of the need for such a rally been addressed? (And in the interests of slightly more clarity, I don’t just mean Republicans here.) Furthermore, are there equally important matters being compromised away because maybe they aren’t quite as easy and obvious to support? (MPCA Citizens Board comes to mind – what is its natural constituency? — Good MinnPost read on that situation here). I honestly don’t know, as I’m not close enough to this situation right now, and this is admittedly a fairly knee jerk reaction. But this all does feel a little weird to me, like maybe we’re getting played — from a pretty straight forward playbook — by those who seek to compromise our democracy every day. I hope I’m wrong, but in any case I mostly just hope it doesn’t end there.

In the meantime, of course, do please continue to support both the public functions of the Auditor’s office as well as Rebecca Otto for the bold stances she’s taken in favor of public accountability and her pro-taxpayer stance in the face of the highly costly PolyMet proposal, which Arne Carlson and others have convincingly argued is what’s really behind this nonsense. Make sure to check that out.