In the past three weeks, former Gov. Mark Dayton and Sen. Tina Smith have publicly declared concerns about the Twin Metals mining project, which would cause irreparable harm to the treasured Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCA). In a letter to the Department of Interior, Smith requested a resumption of the 2017 study on the safety and health of copper-nickel mining in environmentally sensitive areas such as the BWCA. That study was halted without explanation by the previous administration. However, there are two other projects that should also be included in any study designed to protect the drinking water essential to our state.
We should bear in mind that 56% of Minnesota’s rivers, lakes, and streams are already “impaired.” We can hardly afford more risk.
The PolyMet proposal
The first project is the PolyMet mining undertaking, located just eight miles from the Twin Metals project. Both mines threaten the very health and safety of two vital sources of clean water: the BWCA and Lake Superior. Both have harmful effluents, including mercury and arsenic, that will will leach. Both are shell companies spun out by foreign mining conglomerates that are not signatories to the state’s contract, thereby avoiding liability, and both have international records of illegalities including breach of contract, child labor, bribery, tax evasion, and flight from areas and nations they devastated. Glencore, the owner of PolyMet, is currently under investigation by our nation’s Justice Department for alleged violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and laundering of monies and in Great Britain for bribery.
In spite of this sordid record, not one public official nor any media outlet can explain why any governmental entity is doing business with such international rogues. Nor has anyone in public office or in any governmental position come forth with anything that differentiates the Twin Metals project from PolyMet. Not one.
Enbridge’s Line 3 project
Enbridge is a pipeline project that, like PolyMet and Twin Metals, involves exploitation of our valuable water resources and people. This undertaking is billed as a replacement for an aging pipeline, but in reality it is considerably larger and in a different location. When completed, Line 3 will be one of the world’s largest oil carriers, with an expected load of 915,000 barrels per day. It will extend from Alberta, Canada, to Lake Superior, crossing Leech Lake and the Fond du Lac Reservation as well as other smaller and valuable lakes, wetlands, and rice beds.
When an accident occurs, and that is certain, it would have dire consequences for those on the reservation as well as all residents in metropolitan Minnesota and the towns and cities that draw their drinking water from the Mississippi River.
Now Enbridge has spent millions of dollars to convince the public and its leaders that Line 3 will be safe and environmentally friendly. The best determinant of the future is to review the past. Firstly, Enbridge has no intention of cleaning up its current pipeline. Rather, it will allow it to rest in its current location and slowly rot away. Secondly, they have had some 800 spills over the past 15 years. That comes to roughly one per week. Now, would we think of running this “safe” oil pipeline under the lawn of our state Capitol or perhaps under Lake Minnetonka?
If the answer is in the negative, then why allow this clearly high-risk pipeline to go through valuable and sacred tribal lands and without their permission or even input?
Further, the Minnesota Department of Commerce has taken strong issue with Enbridge’s analysis of need. The department sees a reduced reliance on oil as governments respond to the climate crisis. Hence, we have a war between two appointed departments of the same government.
Finally, we are once again violating our own promises that we made in the treaties with the Anishinaabe people in 1842, 1854, and 1855. Those treaties may be “inconvenient” today, but they represent promises and agreements that our government willingly made and they are to be honored.
Agencies of government have represented that they have held public hearings and gathered public input. Well, that appears to be a matter of interpretation. Here is how one tribal member described the process: “Over and over again, we were told that tribal consultation means allowing tribal members and even tribal officials were to drive to public hearings in the middle of nowhere in the depths of winter, wait their turn, and provide a three-minute comment that is promptly ignored.”
Our nation’s Constitution recognizes Indian tribes as distinct governments; therefore, they should be accorded the same level of respect as we grant to local, state, and federal entities. Why is it that we accord foreign leaders, even those we deem hostile, the finest and most elegant treatment Washington can summon and yet treat our tribes with such appalling disrespect? We ask our Native citizens to fight and die in our nation’s wars but we seem unable to honor our treaties or grant them the same treatment we would want for ourselves.
This includes the right to be heard by our duly elected officials. Yet, not one of the three projects — Twin Metals, PolyMet, Enbridge — has received any hearings before a legislative body. Here we have three incredibly important projects that have the potential to destroy so much, and yet those decisions are made by appointed administrators. In the case of Enbridge, where one department is challenging another, is not the state Legislature the proper place for resolution following extended public hearings?
Certainly, we should be able to agree that all three projects must be subject to a moratorium pending the completion of a study that will assure the public’s health and safety.
Arne H. Carlson is a former governor of Minnesota, 1991-1999. Siena Leone-Getten and Maya Stovall are students at Carleton College.
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