In response: Nolan flip-flopped on sulfide miningU.S. Rep. Rick Nolan and I share some things in common. We are not experts on sulfide (copper-nickel) mining. We form opinions by listening to others. We differ, however, on whose information we consider reliable. My opposition to sulfide mining is based on EPA reports that say proposed sulfide mining projects are “environmentally unsatisfactory” and are expected to require $3 million to
By: Nathan J. Ness, Duluth News Tribune
U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan and I share some things in common. We are not experts on sulfide (copper-nickel) mining. We form opinions by listening to others. We differ, however, on whose information we consider reliable. My opposition to sulfide mining is based on EPA reports that say proposed sulfide mining projects are “environmentally unsatisfactory” and are expected to require $3 million to $6 million in annual water-treatment costs for 500-plus years. Nolan brushes aside such warnings, relying instead on fact-free corporate talking points and wishful thinking.
If Nolan was always a shameless, science-denying lapdog for mining interests, it was not obvious until after the election. During an 8th Congressional District candidate forum at the College of St. Scholastica in April 2012, a question was posed to candidates about Minnesota Chamber of Commerce efforts to weaken state water-quality standards to help copper-nickel mining meet permitting requirements. Candidates were asked if they could support a type of mining that required a weakening of water-quality standards. Of all the candidates, only Nolan claimed it must meet current water-quality standards, not a future, weaker standard. For many concerned about sulfide mining, this was an adequate answer. Nolan wanted our support, and he got it. On this basis, I channeled significant support to Nolan’s campaign. Many organizers and activists did.
Predictably, after taking office, Nolan endorsed sulfide mining. His flip-flop followed a tour of a reverse osmosis water-processing center, after which he publicly declared the project’s safety. Perhaps underestimating his constituents’ intelligence and overestimating his own credibility as a member of Congress, Nolan implied his opinion was a legitimate alternative to those of the EPA and Ph.D. scientists. While experts warn of 500-plus years of water pollution and a ruined local economy, Nolan remains unconcerned. He toured a facility.
During a recent town-hall forum at the University of Minnesota Duluth, Nolan took a verbal beating for backing dirty tar sands oil pipelines and sulfide mining. Among others, I challenged Nolan for his “yes” vote on the Rep. Michele Bachmann co-sponsored Strategic Minerals Act, a bill aimed at deregulating water-quality protections. I also challenged him to confirm or deny sulfide-mining claims made by environmental groups like Friends of the Boundary Waters. Instead of confirming or denying their claims, Nolan stood nervously silent. I closed by asserting that if he cannot debunk their claims then, “What the hell are you doing supporting this type of mining? This is our water!” At this point, many in the audience applauded in agreement.
Nolan tells the forum incident differently. Weeks afterward, he met with the News Tribune editorial board. There he reported his forum performance as persuasive, commanding and “steadfast.” In an editorial that followed, I was described as “an attendee” who “barked” comments before being “silenced.” Nolan’s account was a desperate attempt to save face while rewriting history for people not present.
First, referring to me as some random attendee was passive-aggressive. The congressman knows me. He supported and collaborated with two organizations I administered over the past two years. Second, if Nolan thinks he “silenced me” he should get his memory checked. He interrupted me to make brief and unconvincing claims. After his comments, I wrapped up mine, with overwhelming support from the crowd.
Facts aside, a News Tribune Opinion page writer who was not at the forum wrote an editorial stating as the newspaper’s opinion that, “Nolan remains commendably steadfast in his support of precious-metals mining on the Iron Range,” despite catching “hell” from “friends.” “Commendable?” Really? What was “commendable” about putting Minnesota’s lakes, rivers and clean-water economy at risk? What was “commendable” was a room full of citizens speaking truth to power, standing up for clean water against corporate and political attacks.
Truly, if Nolan was going to lie on the campaign trail to get elected, he should have lied to the dirty mining interests and then joined those intent on protecting Minnesota lakes and rivers — not the other way around. That would have been commendable.
Nathan J. Ness of St. Paul is an independent contract organizer and advocate.