The Annals of Muffing It
Last Friday, June 8th, Tina Smith pulled the most odious stunt of her admittedly short senatorial career. I am reluctant to call Tina Smith a senator because she never won the job in an election. She is an incumbent in only the most jocular sense. When she was appointed to the job by Governor Dayton, I was prepared to let her earn the post and vote for her in November; I really thought she would earn it.
But in the only meaningful thing she has done since being appointed, she muffed it. Catastrophically muffed it. Bill Buckner is off the hook.
At least her move will be memorialized in the Annals of Muffdom as the “Smith Amendment.” Amy Klobuchar supports this clunker, too, but Amy was smart enough to dodge the limelight on this one. “I tell you what, Tina,” says Amy, “I’m going to give you a chance to shine.”
“Gee, thanks,” replies Tina, “I owe you one.”
What I am talking about is the Russian-oligarch-worthy bill to sell off — “trade” — part of Minnesota’s birthright to a fly-by-night Canadian “mining” company and its puppeteer for a song. PolyMet needs this land to expand the bankrupt LTV’s old, leaky tailings basin that PolyMet acquired and where it wants to dump toxic tailings from a sulfide pit mine near Hoyt Lakes. They need a big basin, you see, because the “ore” it will mine has such a vanishingly small percentage of metals in it that there will be a lot of waste tailings to deal with. The tailings have to be kept wet, which will require the continuing appropriation of large amounts of water.
The land that PolyMet has its eye on is currently owned by We The People. The US Forest Service is our land agent here, and the swap under consideration is being examined administratively [and now in the courts, ed.] from an environmental standpoint and the fairness of the price (which it doesn’t seem to be).
Anyway, Tina said “What, the hell; let’s just do it!” So she offered her “amendment” to a defense authorization bill, claiming the metals that would be produced at the mine are “strategic.” Strategic for China, perhaps, since that is where any copper from the mine is going for the first several years, anyway.
It is a brazen and disingenuous end-around due process to benefit a Canadian “mining” company (PolyMet) and its effective bad-boy Swiss conglomerate parent (Glencore). We The People are just chopped liver, I guess. When first approached after she offered the amendment about why she did, she didn’t have a response. No ready justification for what she had just done? Later she told the AP it wouldn’t interfere with rigorous environmental review. [chortle] Naturally, that is what it is supposed to do. But lying about it just compounds the felony.
The last couple of sessions of the Minnesota Legislature have featured Republican efforts to roll back environmental protection and administrative decision-making on things like groundwater, riparian buffers, sulfate standard in surface water, and even the adjudicated regulation of the level of White Bear Lake. The Dayton Administration, of which Tina Smith was a part until early this year, complained loudly about these things. The governor also vetoed the two largest bills of this past session, the tax and supplemental budget bills, over the kind of logrolling that Smith engages in here.
It didn’t take Tina Smith very long to go native in Washington.
But you can hear dollars clapping in some places, the PolyMet corporate offices for one. Three PolyMet executives, President Jon Cherry, Vice President Brad Moore, and Vice President Bruce Richardson have each contributed to Tina Smith’s campaign.
You will never guess who they contributed to last cycle. (And apparently their only contributions.) Oh, of course, you can guess: Rick Nolan. Rick has offered the same legislation as the Smith Amendment in the House.
You might compare all of this to the position of Senate candidate Richard Painter. He is unalterably opposed to sulfide mining in Minnesota. He has said so in many places, including Drinking Liberally last week.
Update: For a more complete, and frankly better, exposition of this issue I recommend Marshall Helmberger’s terrific piece in the Timberjay.
Further update and correction: There is an article about Tina Smith’s response to questions about the land exchange deal in the Saturday edition of the Strib. “Oh, the exchange seems fair,” opines Tina, “And besides, it’s done all the time.”
Perhaps she can point to a deal to sell or exchange land for use in strip mining after the Weeks Act was passed in 1911. We’re waiting.
And just to be clear, the land to be exchanged is for getting access to the buried minerals, not for tailings storage.
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