Some mining opponents simply don't want to disturb natureVIRGIL SWING: There’s no question that the word “natural” has great appeal for many folks. Almost every product that can claim with a straight face to be natural proudly says so on its label.
By: Virgil Swing, for the Budgeteer
There’s no question that the word “natural” has great appeal for many folks. Almost every product that can claim with a straight face to be natural proudly says so on its label. The corollary is that manmade is bad — or at least suspicious.
These flawed beliefs are likely behind a lot of the opposition that proposed mining operations encounter. Mining has gone on in the Northland for about 120 years and remains a huge piece of our economy.
The latest planned mines in the Northland involve copper, nickel and precious metals. Some opponents contrast their risks with the iron ore mining that has dominated the Iron Range in the past. But the fierce opposition against a proposed iron ore mine nearby in Wisconsin makes me believe any mine proposal would be
For some people, the issue is simple: mining is wrong. Most critics won’t say that, but listening to their objections suggests it really is that simple. Foes cite things such as water pollution and damage to sensitive plants, but their broad objections suggest they just don’t want to disturb nature.
Since above-ground and underground water are found in most of the Northland, it’s nearly impossible to do anything without doing it near water in some form.
The mining industry has earned suspicion, especially with egregious practices in the American West. Minnesota and Wisconsin would be foolish to approve mining without environmental protections in place. But for some people, no protections will ever be strong enough.
There’s more than a little hypocrisy among mining opponents. Other than a few folks living off the grid, the rest of us count on the products of mining every day and in every way. If all mining is halted — as some prefer — where would all those products come from? Recycling can’t do it all.
Pushing mining to other countries would make products more expensive and put mines in countries with much less-stringent environmental controls. Is it OK to endanger their environment?
Gogebic Taconite, which sought an iron ore mine in northern Wisconsin, said recently it is canceling plans because of delays after lawmakers failed to approve a bill to make projects easier. It’s likely this is a bargaining ploy, which the firm may drop before this column appears if a compromise is reached.
I respect the Republican state senator in Wisconsin who refused to go along with the measure being rushed through the Legislature. It’s hard to buck your party, and the changes he seeks seem reasonable.
But changes that satisfy him are unlikely to end bitter opposition to the project from others. I expect nothing other than dropping the project would satisfy most of them.
As unemployed and underemployed people know, jobs are the key to surviving financially in the American economy. Northern Wisconsin and Minnesota’s Iron Range need all the jobs they can get.
Jim Heffernan, my former colleague, used to joke that, if Duluth had never been developed and someone came along and proposed doing so, it would horrify many people.
Build a city on that scenic hill and down to the shores of Lake Superior? Are you crazy? Every lawyer from the Twin Cities would be up here representing one environmental group or another and filing suit in federal court to stop such an outrage.
It’s possible to have development and a healthy environment. It just takes clear thinking and reasonable standards. And it may take people losing some reverence for “natural.”
After all, many of the worst things in life are natural. Infectious diseases: natural. Hurricanes, tornadoes and floods: natural. Oh sure, global warming (partly caused by humans) affects our weather — but rarely if ever causes a specific tornado or hurricane. And unwise flood-control projects can make floods worse, but Mother Nature provides all the water.
Modern politicians seem to have lost the skill, but compromise has been part of public-policy decisions ever since humans got beyond the hunter-gatherer lifestyle. Projects sited in undeveloped areas necessarily require a compromise, but there is no other choice unless we want to return to hunter-gatherer days.
Saying that mining is intrinsically wrong is a head-in-the-sand philosophy we can’t afford.
Budgeteer opinion columnist Virgil Swing has been writing about Duluth for many years. Contact him at email@example.com.