No need to be reactionary in being concerned about minesI hardly think that those with concerns about mining and processing have to be reactionary to make a valid point. Rather, following the “mercury … rules in Minnesota are too strict,” line of thinking, I’m wondering just what percent of our children should have dangerous levels of mercury in their blood before our mercury rules are not excessive.
By: Pete Langr, for the Duluth Budgeteer News
On February 1, the Duluth News Tribune published an article whose subtitle stated that Magnetation, an iron ore processor that is considering building a new plant, “says mercury … rules in Minnesota are too strict.”
On February 3, the same newspaper ran an article whose first paragraph stated that “one of every 10 babies born in the Lake Superior region of Minnesota has unsafe levels of toxic mercury in his or her bloodstream.”
On March 18, the Budgeteer published an opinion article by Virgil Swing, “Some mining opponents simply don’t want to disturb nature.” In that article, Swing asserted that “for some people, no (environmental) protections will ever be strong enough.”
Swing may be right about some people, but given the quotations on mercury, I hardly think that those with concerns about mining and processing have to be reactionary to make a valid point. Rather, following the “mercury … rules in Minnesota are too strict,” line of thinking, I’m wondering just what percent of our children should have dangerous levels of mercury in their blood before our mercury rules are not excessive. Would 20 percent be too many? Thirty percent?
To be very clear, Magnetation doesn’t want to open a mine, but rather a processing plant, and the statement that mercury rules in Minnesota are too strict was not a quote from a Magnetation executive, but instead a product of the News-Tribune’s headline writer.
What Magnetation’s Larry Lehtinen actually said was that “the way we are reading Minnesota’s rules on mercury, there’s no room for any new sources …. It’s essentially a cap-and-trade system without any trade.”
Given that explanation, it may be that Minnesota’s mercury goals aren’t too strict, but that the rules
are too inflexible or unworkable.
To be fair to Swing, I’m convinced that some mining opponents are hypocritical, uninformed, and unrealistic when they oppose mining. But I’m confused about why Swing would bother with a weak minority. There appear to be just as many hypocritical, uninformed, and unrealistic proponents of mining, with a lot more political power, but Swing didn’t write about them.
Wisconsin State Senator Bob Jauch referred to those who aren’t at those ex-tremes when he discussed the Wisconsin Assembly’s recent pro-mining, but anti-environment, bill. Wrote Jauch, “during hearings in Hurley and Mellen, a majority of citizens who favor mining opposed the Assembly bill.”
In other words, it seems that most of us understand the need for mining, but we are also aware that not all ways of doing it are acceptable. Unfortunately, it is those that would like to railroad through weak environmental standards that dominate the discussion, not the apparent majority of citizens who are both pro-mining and de facto environmentalists.
Thus State Senator Dave Tomassoni has said, of proposed metals mines on the Range, that “we’ve been mining on the Range for 130 years; we know how to do it,” while apparently ignoring the fact that the mining that’s been done in the past is iron mining, far different from the new type of mining that is proposed.
Thus St. Louis County Board member Keith Nelson states, with hubris, that “if it can’t be done safely here, it can’t be done safely anywhere.” That ignores the fact that we have no evidence that it’s been done safely anywhere, and so no reason to think it will be done safely here.
Thus, the News-Tribune’s headline writer can write that Minnesota’s mercury rules are thought to be too strict, but nobody (except me, apparently) ever points out that given the levels of mercury in our children, maybe it’s not Minnesota’s goals that are too strict, but instead that other places are too lenient.
And finally, Congressman Cravaack writes about “mining without harm” and a “sustainable” industry, but doesn’t give a single example of a metals mine that fits that definition.
If we are going to have a serious discussion about mining and industry, it would be better if politicians and pundits quit focusing on the pro-mining boosters, and quit trying to paint concerned citizens as reactionaries.
Instead, we should be listening to those, like Senator Jauch and those citizens in Hurley and Mellen, who will welcome a mine when a responsible mining company shows up that is willing to follow reasonable but firm rules.
Budgeteer columnist Pete Langr writes monthly in the Budgeteer. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.