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“Facts” versus the truth in Kent Kaiser commentary

January 26, 2010

In response to Friends’ policy director Betsy Daub’s recent column in the Minneapolis Star Tribune about sulfide mining, the film “Avatar,” and the decisions Minnesotans must make, Kent Kaiser of the Center for the American Experiment, a conservative think-tank, published a counterpoint. The crux of his article is based on several “facts” he presents. Because many of those “facts” are anything but, we felt it would be useful to respond.

Below is a point-by-point response, and below that is an e-mail that Betsy has shared that she wrote back to an individual who contacted her for her side of the story after reading Kaiser’s article.

“Facts” vs. Truth

“Fact: PolyMet’s proposed mine — near Hoyt Lakes — is in a completely different watershed than the BWCA, and nowhere near “Hwy. 1, the scenic entryway into Ely and the wilderness beyond,” as Daub claims. Daub suggests that the BWCA could be affected, and this is completely false.”

Daub did NOT claim that the mine was in the BWCAW watershed. She clearly stated that, after PolyMet, all serious mining interest is located in the BWCAW watershed and thus the PolyMet environmental review process is important to watch and ensure it is done right.

“Fact: If any other mining company ever wanted to begin operation anywhere else up north, it would have to go through its own environmental review process. Daub suggests that permitting PolyMet to mine would automatically lead to mining next to the BWCA, which is false.”

“Suggest” is such a vague word. What Daub stated was that what happens with PolyMet will indeed be precedent-setting. See this statement from Duluth Metals, which last week announced a $227 million deal with a Chilean firm to advance its mine in the BWCAW watershed:

“During a conference call with investors, Duluth Metals leaders were quizzed over the company’s ability to pass Minnesota’s permitting maze. The answer was simple: follow PolyMet.

“Now in the final stages of the environmental impact statement (EIS) process, PolyMet has had the misfortune of being the first in line. After countless delays and $20 million spent on getting the EIS done, PolyMet has laid down a map for how to permit a copper-nickel mine in Minnesota.” Ely Echo, 1/16/2010

“Fact: PolyMet’s operation in Minnesota will be so environmentally and technologically cutting-edge that it will be a model for the world — far from the outdated gloom-and-doom image painted by Friends of the Boundary Waters. The state and federal governments’ environmental requirements for this mine will be unprecedented. In fact, this mine might even have a positive effect on the global environment. Indeed, the entire human race would benefit from PolyMet’s operation being established instead of a mine in some other, less environmentally conscientious country.”

Wow, the entire human race would benefit. And environmentalists are the ones that get accused of hyperbole. Two points:

  1. Opening the PolyMet mine does not mean that another mine in another country will close. Mining companies will always seek to mine metals wherever they are found. They will do so as cheaply as possible to maximize their profits and will be subject to whatever laws apply where they wish to mine.
  2. The PolyMet project is full of holes and serious flaws. Until mining boosters can point to specifics in the project’s Draft EIS that say otherwise, rhetoric about how cutting edge and environmentally safe it will be is nothing but words. The DEIS fails to discuss financial assurance–a glaring omission that puts our tax dollars at risk and which a conservative like Kaiser should be able to appreciate–, it predicts water pollution from waste rock piles for up to 2,000 years, it states that the tailings basin will have a “low margin of safety.” That is just the beginning.

“Fact: PolyMet will provide a domestic supply of metals that Americans use every day — nickel, copper, gold, platinum and palladium — in cell phones, computers, catalytic converters, electric cars, wind turbines and medical devices. The global environmental and domestic economic impact of producing these critical metals here, and having to import less from elsewhere, will be very positive.”

PolyMet’s metals will be sold on the global commodities market, to the highest bidder. The company has entered into a marketing agreement with Swiss firm Glencore AG and it is disingenuous to claim that this will reduce our import or transportation of metals.

“Fact: PolyMet’s operation will create 400 well-paying jobs directly, and there will be hundreds of spinoff jobs. This will add an estimated $240 million to the local economy and to the state’s tax base. The University of Minnesota Duluth has produced excellent analyses.”

The University of Minnesota-Duluth study was paid for by PolyMet, Mining Minnesota and other mining companies and it paints a predictably rosy picture for the project’s economic impacts. Not considered are the negative impacts of such a mine on the region, including the contamination of one Minnesota’s greatest resources: clean water.

“Fact: Our state’s leading policymakers, including U.S. Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken, U.S. Rep. James Oberstar and Gov. Tim Pawlenty support this new generation of mining in Minnesota.”

That is the last “fact” that Kaiser offers, and the only one that is unequivocal. Unfortunately, many of our state’s elected officials have indeed offered their support for PolyMet but one must wonder if they or even their staffs have actually read the Draft EIS or if they are voicing support for the potential jobs, and choosing to just ignore the serious negative impacts on public health, clean water, fish and wildlife habitat, and the region’s sustainable economy.

Civil Dialogue

An individual that read Kaiser’s piece contacted Betsy to ask her what she thought of Kaiser’s arguments. Her response is worth reading:

Thank you for contacting me and for your interest in this issue.  I do not agree with Mr. Kaiser’s characterization of my points or how he characterizes the mining issue in general.  I do agree with him on a few points – though (he might be surprised by that!): that we all use the metals that are sought and that this mine would extract; and that northern MN is in particular need of jobs.  But much of the rest of his article is filled with inaccuracies.  My article talked about safeguarding sustainable economies.  He talks of providing jobs – but he does not talk about jobs mining (and the scale of mining proposed) would jeopardize.  The MN Office of Tourism has found that tourism and recreation are a 1.6 billion dollar industry for northeastern MN.  The Superior National Forest brings in over $200 million to the region in recreation and tourism alone – and $30 million of that is from the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.  This is not small potatoes.  Mining has played an important part of Minnesota’s economy – but it does no longer (about 1% of the state’s income) – and even in the counties where mining has dominated, it now is about 4 or 5% of the economic base.  I don’t say that to put down miners or the industry in terms of how important these jobs are to the communities that have mining.  But, some communities have found more sustainable ways to support themselves – and for many tourism and recreation play an important part of that.  Despite Mr. Kaiser’s points – a great many northern MN citizens are very, very concerned about what wide-spread mining operations may do to their way of life, their businesses, their communities.  This is not about Twin Cities folks demanding things of the north (although – I might point out that the areas in question are all public land – and belong to both the people up north and everyone else too!).

We all use the metals – yes.  I wish I had easy answers for solving our metal demands – but I will not pretend that I do.  But – just to correct the record – the metals that would be mined will be sold on the international market – mostly to feed China’s growth.  Not a domestic source of metals, as Mr. Kaiser notes.

Hope this helps clarify things some.  I do not believe it needs to be a jobs vs environment issue.  I very much think sustainable jobs should be protected and promoted – and that the environment benefits when we do.

All the best,

1 comment to “Facts” versus the truth in Kent Kaiser commentary

  • WildernessHawk

    Kent should try “Thinking out of the Tank.”

    After reading Kent Kaiser’s article which I’ve since found out was distributed through a number of the local “Mining Gazette” newspapers (The Ely Echo and The Mesabi Daily for example) in Minnesota, the obvious question to me was WHY? Are the mining companies that desperate? Kaiser represents that he has Northland ties but he lives in the Twin Cities and belittles the contribution of Twin Cityites except for his learned self obviously. Is he interested in the Global environment when he doesn’t care about the Minnesota environment? I don’t think so. Why is he trying to dupe us and the unemployed desperate for jobs miners here? When someone starts an article (then uses the phrase again later in the article) “environmental extremists” it is blatantly obvious he is so desperate that we won’t get many “facts” and we didn’t (Thanks Betsy for helping us sort out the truth from his “facts”). Since all of Kent’s “Facts” seem to come directly from Polymet’s marketing material I have to ask what sort of economic or emotional ties does Mr. Kaiser or his Think Tank have with the Mining Industry. Seems to be pretty tight.

    And, if Mr. Kaiser is so interested in the Global environment I have a 3fer for him and we all like, nay love, 2fers (2 for the price of one). Let’s send Polymet’s untested technologies to the other countries who are polluting the earth with their copper nickel sulfide rock mining operations and allow them both to have the copper there AND clean up the environment there with the added kicker that we won’t muck up Minnesota with this toxic industries processes. The third BONUS is that if Polymet will do that, gain the copper and clean up the global environment, WE can invite them (maybe even pay them more than we are now) to come back to Minnesota and ACTUALLY “Do it Right this Time.” If Polymet would do that I would be shouting at the top of my lungs “Please come here and Mine our Copper Too.” Wouldn’t you? But, for me not until.

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