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Remember BP's Tony Hayward? He's trying to get his life back in northern Minnesota

Tony Hayward has been hired by Glencore as the executive expert in charge of environment and safety.
REUTERS/Toby Melville
Tony Hayward has been hired by Glencore as the executive expert in charge of environment and safety.

I kept thinking, "I'm too old for this!" A couple of days ago, I was carrying an 18-foot, 6-inch canoe across the Horse Portage around Upper Basswood Falls. The map says it is a mile long. I'm at the halfway point and I'm certain I've carried this beast 10 or 15 miles. Thank goodness there are trees with limbs I can rest the canoe on. I'm also thankful that I have along my sons-in-law, Manny and Matt, who end up carrying the canoe the rest of the way, plus the packs, and if they really wanted me to like them, they would offer to carry me. They offered. I demurred, only because I didn't want anyone to see such a sight.

Despite it all, the BWCA and the north country of Minnesota are such wonders of overwhelming beauty and peace that no matter how troublesome one's existence, folks can get their lives back.  

Wait a minute! Wasn't that what British Petroleum's Tony Hayward said to the press as he surveyed the ruin caused by the Deepwater Horizon explosion and the largest oil spill in U.S. history? Tony just wanted his life back. Gaffes like that ended his leadership of BP. So they gave him about $4 million to go away. Maybe he will end up in Minnesota's north country. You think I'm kidding? Read on.

Tony Hayward has been recently hired by a company called Glencore. Don't feel bad if you haven't heard of it. It has been trying for years to be invisible to the naked eye. It was briefly in the news back in the Clinton years when its founder, Marc Rich, violated federal law by trading oil with Iran and went on the FBI's most wanted list. Things cooled off fairly quickly because President Clinton pardoned Rich as Bill was on the way out of the White House door. Rich was, well, rich. He gave money to the Clinton campaign. I'm not saying. I'm just saying.

So Glencore ends up being one of the biggest, if not the biggest, commodities traders in the world. It handles everything from metals to fuel and has operations all over the globe. It doesn't have a very nice record in some parts of the world where it has been accused of mistreatment of workers, pollution and very much worse. Now Glencore is putting its money in northern Minnesota. It is has just become the principal investor in a mining operation planned for Hoyt Lakes.

Hardrock sulfide mining
Iron mining and northern Minnesota have gone hand in glove for a century. But the proposed PolyMet mine in Hoyt Lakes is a different animal. It is called hardrock sulfide mining. It will be going after copper and nickel and precious metals. It promises jobs in a job-starved part of our state. But there are two things you should know about hardrock sulfide mining. The first thing is that the Environmental Protection Agency says hardrock mining generates more toxic waste than any other sector of the U.S. economy. The second thing you should know is that the history of this sort of mining shows that when the metals run out, the companies decamp. The real pollution starts after they leave with the winnings, go broke, or sell out.

Across the country, hardrock mine operations have left state taxpayers holding the bag. The cost of the cleanup falls primarily on folks who had nothing to do with the pollution. After a bad experience, our neighbor Wisconsin made a rule that states that if any company wants to hardrock mine, it has to put up a bond that will cover the expense of cleaning up the mess the company is sure to leave behind.

This next sentence is not a joke. Tony Hayward has been hired by Glencore as the executive expert in charge of environment and safety. Former state Rep. Frank Moe is not laughing.

After serving in the state Legislature, Moe got his life back. He is a guide and outfitter on the North Shore. He also writes a pretty mean letter. Most of his old colleagues have likely received a copy of it by now. In the letter, Moe reminds his old friends that when it comes to considering whether to grant a permit to PolyMet to operate a hardrock sulfide mine, they should consider the other jobs at stake. Not just the 400 or so mining jobs, but jobs like his. Moe says that there are 30,000 people working in the north woods recreation economy. He asks the legislators and commissioners whether tourists will still come north if the rivers and lakes are polluted.

Moe told me: "Sulfide mining has a perfect record. A perfect record of environmental damage. There are no examples of a hardrock mining operation without serious pollution." He likes the Wisconsin model. He wants PolyMet to make upfront financial assurances that will pay for any and all cleanup costs. He doesn't want taxpayers stuck with the bill. But, he adds, Polymet says the upfront assurance is a deal-breaker.  

Tour of the site
I've met PolyMet CEO Joe Scipioni. He is a nice man. He showed me around the Hoyt Lakes site. I asked him about toxic waste and pollution and he said new technology will virtually eliminate the threat. I believe he believes that.

But Frank Moe has a good question. He wonders why financial assurance is a deal-breaker if there is no concern about creating a toxic waste site? Moe says, "They must not believe their own rhetoric."

PolyMet is just the first of many hardrock mining operations in line to seek permits. PolyMet is outside the BWCA watershed. If there is a pollution problem, it will affect the Embarrass, Partridge and St. Louis Rivers and Lake Superior. The others, if they are permitted to operate and then discharge toxic waste, as nearly every other such mining operation has, the pollution will flow into the pristine boundary waters where I just drank unfiltered lake water. The discharge of toxic waste into the BWCA is not just a pollution problem, it will be, for millions of people, the end of the world. That's not a pollution problem.

If that happens, I don't much care whether Tony Hayward gets his life back. I will be wondering where the rest of us will go to get ours back.

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Comments (33)

They put the man in charge of one of the largest environmental disasters ever, an incident that killed 11 and injured 17 in the initial blast, in charge of SAFETY AND THE ENVIRONMENT?!? Can they get flagged for taunting?

Unthinkable! Thanks for the heads up, Don. Go get'em!

Wow - thanks for the informative article. As a property owner in the Range area, I hope our legislatures, etc., demand that financial assurance and do not succumb to greed. Jobs are nice, but they come and go, as we all know. That kind of pollution, however, will never "go."

If this is the kind of "job creator" we are attracting to the state by refusing to raise taxes on millionaires- let's call a special session and raise taxes ASAP!

This is scary and not fiscally prudent.

The operatives breathing in and motoring along on the gases of C.E.O. corporate jets and boards watch out for one another. They're not looking out for you, for me or anything else worth a damn. We're not members of the club. Shelby isn't a member of their club. Don, thanks for the alert.

If this was fiction it would be hilarious. Unfortunately, it is not fiction nor is it hilarious.

The objections of Glencore to providing some form of financial assurance to the state is especially revealing when you examine the low cost of methods which can be used to provide that assurance. The costs can be very modest IF Glencore’s claim of no pollution were to be true.

See a rundown of a whole lot of things about hardrock sulfide mining at the following link:

In that document, you’ll find just how many dimensions of pollution and indirect costs follow this kind of mining, and therefore there are many dimensions to the costs of reclamation.

Also, it describes a number of mechanisms that can be used to provide financial assurance of the availability of funds for reclamation:

- A Surety Bond at a 1% to 3.5% premium cost. But this varies with the risk presented by the company, which derives not only from its financial stature but also its past practices. Could it be that Glencore is a poor risk in the eyes of potential bondholders?

- A Letter of Credit issued by a bank, generally for higher amounts and at an even lower premium cost. Are Glencore’s bankers reluctant to issue such a document? If so, why?

- Corporate Guarantee and Self-Bonding reduces out-of-pocket cost of the financial assurance to little, although the potential liability must be carried on books. Also, if the company undergoes an utter financial failure, there are no resources to get for reclamation. Why would Glencore be against this one?

- Government Bonds. If Glencore is a poor risk to the insurance industry, its banks don’t want to issue a letter of credit, and it has its own reasons to avoid self-bonding, why in the heck would the State of Minnesota want to get involved where these better-informed parties won’t go?

I ask this question with a certain trepidation, in light of our recent government shutdown: do they think we’re stupid?

The picture here is so obvious, Glencore’s resistance and phoney-baloney is an insult to every Minnesotan. Glencore KNOWS VERY WELL how risky this project is. Their plan is this: after the project is over, abscond from Minnesota and leave no forwarding address.

off the basic topic

But remember:
Never judge a portage by its rods!!

Mr. Shelby, Thank you for the article. I am so glad that you have focused on our environment and have dedicated yourself to learning and keeping us informed. I am also happy to hear that you are still slogging through some of most precious land on the planet. It’s alright to let your sons do some of the heavy lifting. I’m sure they don’t mind. Though, I’m a little concerned about you drinking unfiltered water. Please keep up the good work and stay healthy!

Dysfonic "conservative" response: I don't live where the pollution is going to happen, and THERE'S MONEY TO BE MADE!

Full steam ahead (despite the numerous, constantly repeated ice berg warnings)!

Glencore's plan for Northern Minnesota - turn it into the ecological equivalent of R.M.S. Titanic, then, after your cheap, chiseling, corner-cutting recklessness has torn a gaping hole in the ecology of the entire region, "Take the Money and Run."

Which, as with natural gas "fracking" is likely the only way they can actually make money doing this kind of resource extraction.

What an excellent piece. Thanks for writing it, Mr. Shelby. I am off now to contact my legislators, and to post this to facebook for others to do the same.

Hayward will fit right in with the Republicans in the legislature. Just when I thought it couldn't get worse ... .

According to the Glencore website Hayward is also a member of its Board of Directors.

A full 50% of copper mines produce URANIUM as a so-called byproduct.

Be afraid folks, be very afraid. This is what Clinton and Frank Guistra were up to = tipping off investors in "secret" uranium secrets. Give it a google you'll see.

The hunt for methane hydrate is underreported. BP drilled into a mud volcano in the Gulf. Looking for - yup, methane hydrate NOT oil. This hunt is causing global warming.

This piece couldn't be more timely. The current crop of "conservatives" (Teddy Roosevelt is writhing in his grave) is planning to eviscerate the EPA, cut its budget and roll back protections they've been chipping at for years. A good quick summary is here:

There's so much to worry about in these discourging times, but add our nation's environmental safeguards to the list. The orcs are spilling over our sweet earth.

thank you so much for this. Its un-effing believable.

Rebecca and little less Greg,

Thank you for pointing out that this is the Republicans doing. Of course jobs will be union jobs and we know unions are all Republicans as well. So it is all the Republicans doing. Now Obama can take credit for providing jobs to northern Minnesotans.

Great article Don! I attended the Outward Bound School in Ely, MN in 1968, and my father brought me there in 1964. I understand that this boundary waters region we share with Canada is completely unique in the world. Citizens, legislators and policy makers of Minnesota need to protect this region for safe multiple-use activities. The Wisconsin model of bond backed clean-up funding in advance and ongoing fees to Glencore (and other mining companies too) is the prudent model to prevent more “super clean-up sights” like the others Minnesota has been burdened with. If these financial backed assurances are a deal breaker, Minnesotans will be better off to pass. The minerals will stay there and only become more valuable. If Minnesota holds the protection of this region at the top of the list the right set of companies with adapt a business model that includes pre-payment of clean-up. Let’s wait for the right mining companies and never risk the environmental destruction of our boundary waters area. It is not enough to tell Glencore to take it or leave it. Next time they say it’s a deal breaker, ask them to leave the State, and “get their life back somewhere else,” because their values are incompatible with Minnesota’s love for the boundary waters and all of Minnesota’s natural beauty.

I certainly hope the people of Minnesota carefully consider the application of this company to mine in an area noted for its natural beauty, and recreational potential. This company says putting up a bond to cover the costs of cleanup after the mining is through is a "Deal Breaker", while saying the mining process will be practically pollution free. That is akin to them pissing on your foot and then telling you it is raining! Their choice for an "executive expert in charge of environment and safety" would be laughable if it wasn't just so sick! Tony Hayward is "Getting his life back" just in time to ruin yours!

Thanks for another great article, Don.

Personally, I'm not very interested in financial assurances. Money does not replace precious wilderness such as still exists in northern Minnesota, and no amount of "cleanup" can restore land and water to its pristine state. Glencore can keep its money and take its business elsewhere, thank you very much.

Putting Hayward in charge of environment and safety is like putting Joseph Mengele in charge of health and wellness.

You really can't make this stuff up. As others have noted, just when you think you've seen the worst, a whole new layer of the onion peels back and you see how deep the rot goes.

When I was young, I was an optimist. I'm afraid all optimism has long since been crushed out of me, and now I simply wonder how bad things will get before I finally shuffle off this mortal coil. The difference is, my expectations these days are generally fully met.

Governor Dayton, please please PLEASE don't roll out the welcome mat for Tony Hayward or any company arrogant enough to put someone like him on its payroll.

I am so certain that the Star Tribune will give this story prominent play that I am willing to bet one full penny on the proposition.

Shelby usually has a team of litter bearers to take him in his sedan chair to wherever he must go, but I give him props for traversing the Horse Portage on the Basswood, truly one of the most ankle-turning, curse-inducing, back-busting portages anywhere.
Nicely done, Don!

Thank you, Don Shelby. I'd carry you on a portage any day.

If folks want to know more about Glencore and PolyMet, please check out

And let's not trust state regulators to prevent PolyMet pollution until they have required polluters to clean up leaking tailings basins and toxic streams from other mines all over Northern Minnesota.

Relax, everybody. For one thing, it would be a plus if URANIUM(in Caps or not) could be produced. Unfortunately, it is not likely.
Also Polyment can be run safely. Please read my earlier article in Community Voices. Some kind of surety will be needed as I pointed out in my article. Polyment has limited resources and Glencore is apparently not on the hook if there is a problem. Shelby is a fine writer, but neither he or Moe knows beans about mining technology.

The far-right members of Congress are trying to kill both the EPA and every Department of the Interior protection of forests and parkland. They want loggers and miners to be able to proceed with any plan no matter how it would affect our public lands.

Some of the legislature's northern-Minnesota liberals are fighting for this mining company to go forward because of the jobs. As are Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken (unless they have come to their senses).

The other awful thing working its way through the Congress is the Canada-to-Mexico pipeline to carry the world's dirtiest oil, which is also the MOST injurious to the environment: that from Ontario's tar sands.

Has corporate America fully succeeded in taking over at least a large part of the Congress and a majority of the US Supreme Court? It certainly seems so.

You are into petroleum geology, about which your knowledge is limited. The oil flowing to the US from Alberta isn't any "dirtier" than any other oil.
As to the environment: First the atmosphere in the area is regularly tested and if anything it is slightly cleaner on the Air Quality Index than when oil sands operations began.
Second, the process uses a lot of water. Currently it is using about one percent(1%) of the flow of the Athabasca River.
Third, as to the overall process and this "dirty" oil, a September 21, 2010, a study by "IHS Cambridge Energy Research Associates (IHS CERA)" found that fuels made from Canadian oil sands "result in significantly lower greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions than many commonly cited estimates. Oil sands products imported to the United States result in GHG emissions that are, on average, six percent higher than the average crude consumed in the country. This level places oil sands on par with other sources of U.S. crude imports, including crudes from Nigeria, Venezuela and some domestically produced oil." About 40 million tons of CO2 are emitted annually up there. That's a little over twice the emissions from Xcel Energy's Sherco plant at Big Lake, MN.
Fourth, about 200 square miles of land has been substantially disturbed and only about a fifth of it is under reclamation. this is probably the weakest area from an environment standpoint.
Finally, we don't have a substitute for that oil without hard choices like gas taxes which no one wants to make in the US.
REW(member American Association of Petroleum Geologists)

I am just wondering why anyone would rely on financial assurances to protect our environment. It would be sort of like putting Humpty Dumpty back together again. You can't blast and dig up an entire area, creating huge open pits, waste rock piles, and tailings and expect that you can "reclaim" that area into what it once was. That area is now Superior National Forest, and land bordering the BWCAW.
Underground mining is no big solution, because all of the blasted rock material must still be hauled above ground and processed before any amount of waste can be returned underground.
Any kind of mining in sulfide ores results in water contamination (acid mine drainage and heavy metal leaching) that requires perpetual treament.
PolyMet should have gone under when its draft environmental impact statement was rated by the EPA as EU-3, environmentally unsatisfactory-inadequate. Instead it continues to be propped up by politicians and politically controlled agencies.
Promised mining jobs will destroy existing jobs in recreation, tourism, fisheries, and forestry. The opening of a copper-nickel mining district would "undermine" the small businesses that have created a niche for themselves in the area.
Mining companies use fear propaganda, claiming that these low-grade metals (less than 1% mineralization) are badly needed in the USA, when in fact all such metals would be sold, via the Glencore agreement, on the global market. The exchange for extracting these low grade metals would be the destruction of the entire remaining Arrowhead Region.
If you want to see what this kind of mining would look like, just google the Iron Range. Taconite is 25% iron. See what kind of a footprint that is leaving on the land.
The public needs to stand up and speak its piece. Or there will be no peace for the environment.

Financial assurance will only separate a mining company with assets from a mining scam. Remember Mr. Shelby also mentioned Wisconsin's moratorium - basically meaning no sulfide mine until it can be done without damage. Sulfide mining, despite what the mining companies propagandize, cannot be cleaned up - at best it requires perpetual treatment. How realistic is that? The Dunka mine, just a few miles from PolyMet's proposed sulfide mine, has a water treatment plant that is not being used despite continual water violations. Financial assurance means we might have funds for damage control - we will not be able to clean up the contamination. So what does Minnesota want? Do we want mines in a sulfide bearing ore body or our lake country? Go to Google Earth and search for Picher, Oklahoma. The tailings ponds and waste piles are also from a sulfide bearing ore body. Picher no longer exists - the town was so contaminated the government bought the residents out. Treece, a little town adjacent, wasn't so lucky - no one bought them out. Now search for the South Kawishiwi River with Google Earth, and imagine the Superior National Forest area looking like Picher and Treece. Proposed sulfide mining in Minnesota is 99% waste, which means the tailings and waste would be at the very least as massive as at Picher. Picher’s aquifers are contaminated. Oklahoma is not known for its wealth of water. Imagine Picher surrounded by a labyrinth of lakes and rivers. Is damage to our waters what you want for northern Minnesota? If you think it can’t happen here, Google Mile Post 7, Beaver Bay, for a taste of what we already have in Minnesota.

Boozhoo Don Shelby. Gichi-mii'gwech for your fine article. Hopefully, people who are not aware of nonferrous mining will gain an understanding of the imperilment that copper mining places on our ecosystem.
One issue your article did not mention is the effect on manoomin - Minnesota's state grain. Near the end of your article, you state: "If there is a pollution problem, it will affect the Embarrass, Partridge and St. Louis Rivers and Lake Superior." Those waters will be affected by a higher influx of sulfate that will, in turn,greatly imperil the wild rice stands. Wild rice is a barometer of our ecosystem. If that is destroyed, the environment will follow.
Additionally, wild rice is a cultural resource for Anishinaabe people. Not only is the environment endangered but a way of life is endangered. Nonferrous mining is, for both Native and non-Native, a clear and present danger.

Having Hayward on the board and hiring him to be executive expert in charge of environment and safety says all we need to know about Glencore. Perhaps the Koch brothers will give him a warm reception.

Job Shortage?

Yes, there are fewer minning jobs than 30 or 40 years ago. Some of that is due to recession and bankruptcy. Some due to efficiencies in the industry. Some due to foreign competition. But as far as job shortages, well, just go on some of the help wanted job sites for the Range area and you will find lots of jobs, employees wanted. I've done that. I've looked in our local papers. There are jobs. Many are for people with lots of training/college. And lots of jobs that need just some extra training. I think that there may actually be a shortage of affordable housing for people just starting out in the job world. I have seen some of the positiions listed as open for months and months. Sure, the jobs aren't in the mines, but many are not low pay jobs.