Pete Langr: EPA cautious, not arrogant, on PolyMet
Here in Minnesota, with our history of relatively strong environmental standards, it seems that just about everyone agrees that we will take care of our land, our water and our air. Evidence for that statement is our willingness to vote ourselves...
Here in Minnesota, with our history of relatively strong environmental standards, it seems that just about everyone agrees that we will take care of our land, our water and our air. Evidence for that statement is our willingness to vote ourselves a tax increase of roughly $300 million per year for land and water conservation.
In other states, like West Virginia, people may not be so lucky.
Recently, the News Tribune reported about Duluth's David Tryggestad, of Concordia Lutheran Church, who is speaking out from a Christian perspective against mountaintop removal coal mining. Such mining literally removes the tops of mountains, filling valleys and streams below.
The mining has devastating impacts for the people who live in the area, including greater and more frequent downstream flooding, acid drainage and high levels of metals in streams, poisoning of fish (and of people who may eat them) and an increased prevalence of lung, heart and kidney disease in local populations. Productivity and livability of the area is permanently diminished.
John Prine's "Paradise" is no longer just hauled away. Now you can drink it, breathe it and die from it too.
Tryggestad describes the mining as a "sin against the earth ... against one another and against future generations."
Bolstering Tryggestad is a January article in the journal Science, in which the writers took the unusual step of recommending that mountaintop removal permits "should not be granted unless new methods can be subjected to rigorous peer review."
The reality, though, is that religious and scientific arguments often don't go very far in decisions of this type. Instead, decisions to mine are usually short-term and political -- ethics and science take a back seat.
But all that is someplace else, and unless we take the global view advocated by Tryggestad, it's not our worry.
Our politicians all tell us that they fully support strong environmental controls. We would never let a few hundred jobs cloud our vision, and cause us to allow expensive and long-term damage to our water.
So when PolyMet prepared an environmental impact statement (EIS) for its proposed metals mine near Hoyt Lakes, and the Environmental Protection Agency gave that EIS a failing grade, many Minnesotans, especially politicians, took offense.
Last week one of them, gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer, stood in front of the Depot and lectured on the subject: "How arrogant is it of the people in Washington to suggest that people in northern Minnesota don't care about their natural resources, and would be willing to destroy the great quality of life that they have in northern Minnesota? How arrogant is that?"
He continued: "The people in Minnesota understand what makes this such a great place to be. We gotta make sure that they're empowered not only to enjoy that but also the fruits of the resources that are available to them. Let's get them working again so they can enjoy ... the quality of life that every Minnesotan is entitled to have; frankly, every American should be entitled to have."
Except those West Virginians near the mines, of course, who are made sick, and who lose their property values, and who are not protected by the EPA, which has approved all of those mountaintop removals and which has approved more within the year.
Yep, the same EPA that gave PolyMet a failing grade. And now we're left with a strange choice between two possibilities: either the EPA has a vendetta against Minnesota and PolyMet, or the EPA officially and legitimately sees the PolyMet mine, as proposed, as being at least as environmentally concerning as mountaintop removal.
In case you're stewing over those two choices, I'll give you a piece of information from the mouth of Ken Westlake, the EPA worker who gave PolyMet the failing grade. Says Westlake, "The most compelling issue, from our point of view, is the admission (by PolyMet!) in the draft EIS that this project will violate state and tribal water-quality standards."
I submit to you that it is the second choice that is most correct, and I ask of Emmer why we should believe that it is the knowledgeable scientists of the EPA who are arrogant, and why we should believe that Emmer can better resist rolling over for a polluting industry than politicians elsewhere.
Contact Pete Langr at firstname.lastname@example.org .