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Promises made, promises broken when it comes to Glencore and sulfide mining in northern Minnesota

If our elected officials are not influenced by “big money,” then they should tell us why Glencore is receiving such extraordinary special treatment.

The logo of commodities trader Glencore is pictured in front of the company's headquarters in Baar, Switzerland.
The logo of commodities trader Glencore is pictured in front of the company’s headquarters in Baar, Switzerland.
REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann

In August of 2019, Walker Orenstein of MinnPost conducted a thorough interview on sulfide mining in northern Minnesota with our relatively new governor, Gov. Tim Walz. The governor, to his credit, was knowledgeable, forthright, and firm declaring, “The people have to know the process is solid, verifiable and trustworthy.”

This was a bold and vital commitment because mining sulfide rock in search of copper and nickel is precarious in that the process releases acid and toxic metals including arsenic, mercury, lead, asbestos and cadmium into the water and they remain there for centuries. Hence, it is reassuring that the governor was fully determined to “do things right” and willing to exercise leadership declaring, “It’s my job to make sure we do.”

Orenstein appropriately pressed the governor on the issue of the mining laws governing the permitting process, which clearly were not designed for sulfide mining in that they do not consider issues of health, economics or quality of life of affected communities.

Walz fully acknowledged this saying, “We need to modernize them.”

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The governor further made it clear that since Glencore owned PolyMet he would insist Glencore’s name be on the permit “as a show of good faith and to ensure the corporation is financially liable for cleanup.”

And the final promise was that this would be done with unprecedented transparency trumpeting, “I will stand by that we’re as transparent as any administration, if not the most Minnesota has ever seen.”

Now, that is leadership at its best. Or so we thought.

Some four years later, a new reality has emerged: the old mining laws are fully intact; Glencore is not named on the permit, Glencore is not assuming liability and the governor and Legislature have shrouded this entire matter in darkness.

Additionally, DNR consultants have severely criticized the storage basin designed by Glencore to hold the toxic waste and prevent it from flowing into adjacent BWCA and Lake Superior waters. They determined the safety system to be “inherently unstable and irresponsible” and concluded that it “will inherently fail.” For further emphasis they called it a Hail Mary and that it gave them “indigestion.”

Interestingly, 17 DFL legislators led by Sen. John Marty of Roseville wrote the governor a letter a month before the Orenstein interview outlining the very same concerns and determining that the process was so “flawed” that the a moratorium should be imposed until the laws are updated.

Yet, nothing happened; absolutely nothing. And the secrecy that surrounds this whole matter is alarming. For five straight legislative sessions, leaders of both parties in the Legislature and the governor have refused to change the mining laws or even conduct a hearing on this matter or anything related to Glencore and its global illegalities.

However, the Department of Natural Resources did hire a Denver pro-mining law firm at a cost in excess of $6.4 million to represent the interests of Glencore, a foreign mining conglomerate, against those of the people of Minnesota.

This protection of Glencore continued even after the U.S. Department of Justice in May of last year publicly condemned Glencore after the company pled guilty to charges of bribery of public officials and market manipulation and settled for $1.1 billion saying, “The scope of the criminal bribery scheme is staggering. Glencore paid bribes to secure oil contracts. Glencore paid bribes to avoid government audits. Glencore bribed judges to make lawsuits disappear. At bottom, Glencore paid bribes to make money – hundreds of millions of dollars. And it did so with the approval, and even encouragement of its top executives.”

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Now legislators take umbrage at the suggestion that they are influenced by moneyed interests. However, that is the conclusion of a May, 2021 study by the Humphrey School of Public Affairs, which found that moneyed interests were permitted to “shape” legislation.

And, the undersigned, released a report in August of 2021 outlining the enormity of the fundraising by the legislative caucuses. For the 2020 elections, they amassed more than $26.5 million or some $130,000 per incumbent and enjoyed the services of 317 partisan staffers who work at the direction of partisan caucus leaders. This is by far the largest political operation in the state and it is paid for by the taxpayers.

Former Gov. Arne Carlson
MinnPost file photo by James Nord
Former Gov. Arne Carlson
Interestingly, other states like Colorado, New Jersey and Connecticut wrestled with the reforms necessary to deal with the flood of corporate and dark monies that came into the political system as a result of the 2010 Supreme Court decision known as Citizens United. However, in Minnesota, fundraising flourished while reform languished.

Well, if our elected officials are not influenced by “big money,” then they should tell us why Glencore is receiving such extraordinary special treatment. After all, they are entrusting this corrupt foreign conglomerate with our drinking water, the BWCA, Lake Superior and so much of our access to the great outdoors, including fishing, hunting, camping and vacationing.

And will these same privileges of mining with shoddy technology and protection from liability be made available to other foreign mining conglomerates? Will that also be kept from the public? Please tell everyone why?

Arne H. Carlson served as the Governor of Minnesota from 1991-1999, Tom Berkelman is a former Minnesota State Representative, DFL, from Duluth, Janet Entzel is a former Minnesota State Representative, DFL, Minneapolis, Chris Knopf is executive director of Friends of the Boundary Waters and Duke Skorich is president of Zenith Research, Duluth.