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Given evasiveness, it’s hard to trust PolyMet’s assurances

PolyMet VP Bradley Moore may be a nice guy, but he also showed himself recently to be a skillful evader.

Aerial view of the Polymet Mining site.

ELY, Minn. — Trust has been identified as a key issue in the debate over PolyMet‘s plans for sulfide mining near Hoyt Lakes. I paid particular attention to comments posted on a recent Duluth News Tribune column, “Trust at heart of copper mine debate,” including one by a reader who suggested sulfide mining would not harm our waters as long as Bradley  Moore, PolyMet’s executive vice president of environmental and governmental affairs, was at the helm. The comment writer cited Moore’s background and expounded, “When it comes to truth and trust, I’d rank him near the top.”

In order to trust, one has to be told the truth, and an evasion of the truth is as harmful as a lie. Moore may be a nice guy, but he also showed himself recently to be a skillful evader. Here are three examples from an Izaak Walton League sulfide-mining forum on May 2 in Duluth, where Moore was a presenter.

Union or non-union?

First, Moore was asked if PolyMet would commit to hiring union workers for nonconstruction work. Moore’s reply was that they were committed to hiring “unionized construction workers.”

Notice that he did not answer the question. The question was concerning nonconstruction workers. Afterward, Moore was again asked privately, and with no way to maneuver he admitted they would not commit to hiring union employees after construction.

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PolyMet may well be following the same pattern as the Mesabi Nugget plant in Hoyt Lakes; after receiving strong support from the unions, it has now become a nonunion company.

Believe what we say …

Second, Moore denied that PolyMet has a problem with the sulfate standard, saying, “We are not opposed to 10 milligrams per liter.”

That must be why they have tried so hard through the efforts of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce and certain Minnesota legislators to change the standard — a standard that was established through scientific research, a standard established before our waters were severely impacted by industry.

Not only are they trying to change the sulfate standard, they are also trying to invent a definition of what constitutes a stand of wild rice. No surprise that none of the wild rice stands below PolyMet – stands already damaged by mining discharges – would be large enough to qualify by PolyMet’s definition. Their logic is that once waters are polluted, or wild rice stands damaged, they don’t count anymore. Finish them off.

When all else fails, change the subject

Third, the question was asked, “Can you assure us that you will not be releasing these sulfates?”

It is well known that sulfates play a roll in the conversion of mercury to methyl mercury, that methyl mercury accumulates in the fish living in our waters, and bio-accumulates in us when we eat them. We now have a study of the Lake Superior Basin that found 10 percent of Minnesota’s newborns have unsafe levels of toxic mercury in their blood, likely from their mothers ingesting mercury-laden fish.

So, what did Moore say in response to the question about PolyMet’s sulfate release? He did not answer it. He talked about the amount of mercury blowing in from China.

He knows perfectly well that in PolyMet’s case the sulfates that will be released are a bigger issue than where the mercury originates. Sulfates don’t care where the mercury comes from when they work their magic and turn it into methyl mercury. Our waters have more than enough mercury sitting in their sediments right now, along with sulfate-reducing bacteria, just waiting for those PolyMet sulfates to trigger methyl mercury production. And not only wild rice will be affected; so will our children.

Our children are the winners this time

It appears that the Minnesota courts, namely in Ramsey County, understood the importance of upholding the sulfate standard. As WaterLegacy attorney Paula Maccabee, reported: “in December of 2010, the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, on behalf of its mining industry members, filed a lawsuit in district court to prevent the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) from applying Minnesota’s wild rice sulfate standard to protect natural stands of wild rice from sulfate pollution, including discharge from mine waste rock piles and tailings basins. WaterLegacy and the MPCA both filed motions for summary judgment in January of 2012; they presented their arguments on the first of March.”

The morning of May 11 WaterLegacy learned that “Judge Margaret Marrinan upheld the wild rice sulfate standard and granted the motion for summary judgment [PDF] — dismissal of all claims without going to trial.” Judge Marrinan ruled that the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce Complaint should be dismissed “in its entirety with prejudice and on the merits.” Maccabee explained, “This means the case was thrown out on the substance, not a technicality, and they can’t make the same claims again.”

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Ironically, Moore was oddly prophetic when he claimed PolyMet was not opposed to the 10-milligrams-per-liter sulfate standard. Little did he know the standard would be upheld, and PolyMet would have the opportunity to prove it. Which gives it one big problem. How?

C.A. Arneson lives on a lake in the Ely area.

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