Let the sun shine in
There have been multiple calls recently for some sunshine on the PolyMet permitting process before the Department of Natural Resources. Sunshine would take the form of appointing an administrative law judge from the Office of Administrative Hearings who would hold hearings on the permit to mine. A record would be made — a public record — and the judge would make a recommendation to the Department of Natural Resources on issuance of the permit to mine.
We already do this on things like pipeline permits and electric transmission routes.
On Monday evening, September 12th, the Duluth City Council will consider a resolution urging OAH hearings on the permit to mine. There is a telephone calling campaign ongoing at the moment to urge the council to call for the OAH to become involved.
The City of Duluth and its citizens are the largest group of downstream interested parties on the issuance of mining permits for PolyMet.
If the consideration of the issuance of the permit to mine isn’t out in the open, where will it be? Well, it will be in the bowels of the Land and Minerals Division of the Department of Natural Resources. When you think of the DNR, you think of protecting flora and fauna and idyllic scenes of fishing, hiking, and camping. But the Land and Minerals Division is of an entirely different sort: it’s the cut it down and dig it up people.
From my perspective, Land and Minerals is entirely captured the by timber and mining industries that it is supposed to regulate.
I will give you a little anecdote.
In February of 2014, there was a hearing before House Environment, Natural Resources, and Agriculture Finance Committee on the subject of financial assurances that would be required of PolyMet as a condition to its opening of what everyone concedes is probably the most hazardous kind of mining to the environment, perhaps save gold mining. I attended that hearing, and I chronicled it in a story titled Brad Moore: We are not a shell! All in all, it was an illuminating piece of theater.
The first thing to notice about the hearing is that PolyMet’s spokesman was its Executive Vice President, Brad Moore. Moore used to work at the DNR and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, another state agency charged with being sure that PolyMet doesn’t screw it up.
Moore’s present job is to oil the waters for PolyMet.
Mr. Moore not the first industry executive who went to finishing school at the DNR or MPCA. Nor, more to the point, will he be the last. Which brings us to the specious remarks of the director of the Land and Minerals Division at the hearing I referred to. In discussing the appropriateness and adequacy of water treatment methods, I noted this:
One of the more ironic moments at the hearing to me was when Director [Jess] Richards endorsed heartily reverse osmosis as a method of water cleanup. Why, I have a reverse osmosis system for drinking water in my own house! he says.
Swell. One of the guys in charge of whether PolyMet gets it good enough, already can’t drink the water out of his tap.
Perhaps I’m the only one — but I don’t think so — who is unassured by having a Kinetico salesman in charge of the decision on issuing a permit to mine. Especially one who may be angling for an industry job — like Brad Moore’s — when he “retires” from the DNR.
If all of the negotiations on the issuance of a permit to mine are buried in the Land and Minerals Division, there won’t be a record, or whatever the record is will only — maybe — be available after a long and expensive data practices request. The DNR will only release information grudgingly, and at considerable expense to the person or organization asking for it. (I know this from personal experience.) This is why people like industry flack Frank Ongaro, quoted at the first link above, is so opposed to the idea of OAH hearings. It keeps the riff-raff out, and it keeps the record secret.
Frank also believes, correctly, that Land and Minerals is on his side.
But it is probably not on your side, my friends.
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