• Tag Archives Polymet
  • In Case of Environmental Catastrophe Who You Gonna Call?

    Mid-Summer                                                            New Honey Extraction Moon

    Here’s a question to test your judgement.  If you had an industrial application already noted for its 100% bad track record in all installations (sulfide mining), who might you call to cope with the negative fall out?  What?  Did you say Tony Hayward?  Who’s he?  You remember the Gulf Oil Spill of recent environmental catastrophe fame, right?  Do you remember the BP Executive who said, a week or so into the mess, “I want my old life back.”?  Yep.  Tony Hayward, former CEO of BP.  Well, you did better than I imagined.  Right on the first try.  Yes, Glencore Corporation and their Polymet sulfide mining plant that is under the permitting process now, chose Tony, Big Oil, Hayward as their go to guy in case–really, given the track record, when–something happens, something that can’t be explained but needs someone to stand up and take the heat anyhow.  Tony’s just the right guy.

    Hard to imagine a less savory choice, but the sulfide mining folks found him.  Maybe the C students run corporations, too?

  • An Unforgivable Sin?

    Beltane                                                                    Waning Last Frost Moon

    “Man is the only creature who refuses to be what he is.” – Albert Camus

    Dogs behave like dogs.  Ticks like ticks.  Ravens steal.  Osprey fish.  Shark keep moving.  Even the heart beats, the liver and the kidney detoxify, the stomach and the gut digest and eliminate.  The nose smells.  The ear hears.

    We are the only creatures who, at a super-organism level, can refuse to be what we are.  It is both our glory and our damnation.  When we resist the impulse to violence, the credo of self first and the will to domination we become creatures of wonder, covered with grace and filled with light.  When, though, we take more than we can eat, steal more than we need from mother earth, use our evolved brain to imprison other creatures when we do not need them for food, then we walk to the mouth of the River Styx and throw ourselves in Charon’s boat.

    Here is the first and greatest sin, perhaps the unforgivable sin.  We imagine ourselves apart from nature, as unique and special beings, exempt from evolutionary history and immune to natural consequences.  While it is true that our great technical and scientific skill seems to partition us off in our own special province, it is not so.  Why not?  Read an article about peak oil.  Consider the consequences of peak water.  Look at the struggle to find precious and rare metals, needed for sophisticated electronic devices.  It leads the Polymet Corporation to the conclusion that not only could they find them in our wonderful northeastern Minnesota, they must mine them.  Must.  Or else.  What?  No more cell phones, laptops, tablets?

    Consider the moment of peak rare earths and metals.  What then.  Mother earth only has a certain cache of elements and their combinations, a cache configured in the fires of solar fusion and flung out in the processes that created our solar system and our world.  We do not, can not, make more copper, barium, lithium, nickel.  What gives corporations the arrogant assumption that they can use this store of minerals for their own private purpose?  What gives humanity the temerity to arrogate to our uses all the fossil fuels, all the stored carbon, all the metals gathered in mother earth’s body?  If this question seems naive, then ask how extinction might feel, extinction because we refuse to recognize our limits and our real location in the community of creatures and the world of things?

    So, I invite you to go outside this memorial day weekend and find a flower, a tree, a bird, a dog.  Sit with them for a while.  Notice if they try to take more than the universe has allocated for their use?  Notice how they appreciate the water, the sun, the sky, a friend.  Then watch one of us.

  • The Great Lake

    Beltane                                                  Waxing Last Frost Moon

    Have you ever had a love affair that ebbed and flowed like embers in a fire wavering between bursting into flame and dying out?  I have.  Today I visited that other lover in my life, Lake Superior.  A bookshelf full of books rest in a room not ten feet from here, each one of them related to Lake Superior in some way.  An entire file drawer of a vertical file drawer contains carefully organized files, each an eco-region in the area around Lake Superior and its watershed.  In another spot sit the maps, some USGS, some others representing the land around the Lake.  There are, too, files of notes from two circle route trips I took, each time stopping in various county historical societies:  Ontanogon, Marquette, Thunder Bay to pursue research about this phenomenon less than 2 and half  hours from my front door.

    My brother Mark and I drove up there.  He wandered Park Point and hiked all the way up Lake Street to the top, turning then for a magnificent view of the lake.  While he discovered Duluth, I attended a conference on Sulfide Mining on the Mesabi Range.  This was a large group, 70 plus folks, gathered to hear experts discuss various aspects of sulfide mining’s impact on the waters of three watersheds and the communities of people, trees and wildlife that would share the land with this toxic producing form of mining.

    It was one of those clear northern spring days.  The sun flashed off the lake, bouncing off the crests of waves made by lakers going in and out of the Duluth Harbor.  The temperature was cool by the lake, warmer up the slope of the hillside where St. Scholastica sits; it’s fortress like main building dominating the surrounding the area.

    The drive was long and the stay short, a combination I try to avoid, though this is my second time recently.  The drive out to Lincoln, Nebraska to get the dogs was also a long drive, short stay, quick turn around.

    Not sure where Lake Superior and I stand.  The old spark was there as we crested the hill and looked out over the St. Louis River toward Superior, Wisconsin and the lake spread out below us.  My research, though, sits unused, as it has for several years.  What’s the status of this relationship?  Not sure.

  • Give Me a Good Balance Sheet

    Lughnasa                                    Waning Harvest Moon

    Back from a day of hard rock mining,  a lot of rock and little roll.  One of the criticisms of the environmental movement focuses on its obsession with chemistry, geology, climatology and animal living conditions to the exclusion of human concerns.   The session today on Polymet Mining’s proposal to put a copper mine near Minnesota’s Iron Range proved the point, though it would also have applied to the industry representatives who were there as well.

    This was a day of law, FeS2 and FeOS2.  A cascade of copper, nickel, palladium and platinum tinkled onto the audience.  This fight, and it is a fight, has clear sides and the sides have been at it long enough that they know each other by first names and recall each others data from meetings in the past.

    Not the cozy day, though, that might seem natural in a Minnesota nice crowd like the one gathered at the Northstar Ballroom in the St. Paul Campus Student Center.

    The information presented today may have been old news to many in the room, but it was new to me.  This is a complex issue for several reasons, the chemical reactions that lead to sulfuric acid in the groundwater being the cause celebre, but far from the only one.  There is, too, the tendency of mining companies to exhaust a resource, close the mine and go bankrupt after loading the assets onto another corporate entity.  The tax payers get stuck with the clean up bill.

    In addition the cyclical nature of metal prices accentuates the boom and bust nature of resource frontiers, giving the employment situation a roller coaster ride of high times segueing into desperation.

    In the end the information that impressed me the most came from a Montana economist named Thomas Powers.  He made the point first about benefits always being trotted out and high-fived while the costs associated with mining get set off to the side.  I came away convinced that if we could get a decent balance sheet for the life cycle of the Polymet plant, public costs and public benefits, that we would have a compelling argument for stopping this mine.

    Just another day in the education of a neophyte environmentalist.  But a good one.