For too long we’ve discussed the health of the economy and that of the environment as if they are separate things. They are not. They are part of a whole and are together fundamental to our health and well-being as Minnesotans. Our public conversations need to better reflect that.
Perhaps nowhere is this need made clearer than in the case of the PolyMet copper/sulfide mining proposal (and any that may follow). I am informed that the project will provide 300 to 500 shorter-term jobs. I feel a tremendous sense of responsibility to stand together in support of dignified livelihoods for all. And, as you will learn if you talk with the many people in the organized labor community who know me from my decades of public service, I stand in solidarity with them for workers’ rights.
To me, though, standing for workers’ rights also means looking to the longer term, for I also am advised of a near certainty of unconscionable damage to our waters and habitats associated with the PolyMet proposal. It is the job of the attorney general to protect Minnesota and Minnesota’s resources.
Regarding the drive for sulfide mining in Minnesota, I have heard some politicians - and yes, some union leaders - say, “We’ve always done it this way,” or, “I believe it will work.” With due respect, I believe these individuals may be stuck in an outdated paradigm and are showing a lack of an understanding of where we are in 2014.
We simply can no longer carry on with business as usual. The World Wildlife Fund recently reported we have lost half of our wildlife on this planet in just 40 years due to human exploitation and habitat degradation. Climate change is scientifically confirmed. The world is smaller and our appetites bigger. Can we claim that the multinational PolyMet proposal falls outside the demands of these realities?
The News Tribune this month published an op-ed about the PolyMet proposal from a Duluth economic development expert and a union leader in which they pointed to dependence on “more than 100 pounds of minerals per day” per person.
Friends, it may be time to ask hard questions not only about how we can consume better but also how we can consume less and reuse more.
In her new book, “This Changes Everything,” Naomi Klein wrote, “Requiring cell phone manufacturers to use recycled metals like copper could save a great many communities from one of the most toxic mining processes in the world.” That goes tenfold for foreign corporations seeking to line their pockets in our backyards.
I believe we have reached the point where we must acknowledge that feeding a corporate quest for resources in perpetuity is no longer an option for us and that we have no option other than to identify a better way, one where we provide for our families without jeopardizing the very futures we seek to secure. This likely means changing with whom we do business.
There are important things Minnesota’s state attorney general can do for Minnesotans on this issue - for example, voting against PolyMet leases as a member of the Executive Council, voting for divestment from fossil fuels on the State Board of Investments and, perhaps most importantly, asking much harder questions of corporate interests seeking to exploit our resources. I will take those measures if elected attorney general.
But wherever we head next, I want you to know I am here to fight with you for a safe and livable future in the state we love - something I believe should be the top priority of all officeholders and candidates.
Andy Dawkins of St. Paul is a former DFL legislator and attorney who this fall is the Green Party-endorsed candidate for Minnesota attorney general (dawkinsforag.com). The election is Nov. 4.