Embarrass River - Photo by Rob Levine
by Steve Timmer
May 27, 2019, 5:30 PM

Former DNR Commish Tom Landwehr:

The fate of the headwaters of the St. Louis River is in Minnesota’s hands

We need tougher standards in order to protect the area from PolyMet/Glencore mining.

Our environmental laws limit any water pollution and air pollution, and regulate noise, motors, air traffic, roads, bottles and cans, and logging and mining.

But these laws won’t prevent massive harm to the Partridge River, the Embarrass River, the St. Louis River, and to Lake Superior, if sulfide-ore copper mining [Landwehr said once, just as an aside, that, “We don’t mine sulfides; we mine minerals.”] is permitted on nearby lands along rivers and lakes that flow into Lake Superior. A direct and certain consequence of such mining would be water and air pollution; destruction of the forest and wetland habitat of fish, mammals and birds; noise and light pollution; and an array of other industrial impacts that would invade and irreparably damage these waters.

This is the slightest of edit to a couple of grafs from an opinion piece by the astonishingly self-unaware Tom Landwehr in the Strib in the paper edition on May 25th. He wrote it from his new perch as the Executive Director of the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters.

Landwehr writes (not my parody):

The fact is that Minnesota’s state standards are not sufficient to protect the Boundary Waters. Minnesota’s rules allow water and air pollution, light and noise pollution and the destruction of forests and wetlands. Minnesota’s rules were developed for mines that are located in industrial mining districts, where society has accepted environmental degradation as a consequence of heavy industrial activity and the choice has been made to try to limit but not to prohibit pollution.

There are multiple things to unpack here. He’s right about the inadequacy of Minnesota law to protect fragile environmental resources, including the Boundary Waters. But certainly not only the Boundary Waters. If you read carefully, Landwehr is trying to distinguish between the PolyMet project, which he signed off on as DNR Commissioner, and the Twin Metals project.

They are eleven miles apart.

To hear Tom Landwehr tell it, though, the Boundary Waters is a sacred, pristine, virginal jewel, and everywhere else is an industrial hellhole. If you go to the Boundary Waters, though, you will see the very occasional white pine that towers above the rest. They’re the virgins; most of the Boundary Waters is second growth. The big trees were just too little to mess with back when the area was logged off. Imagine what the place looked like with giant stands of white pine.

So, the Boundary Waters was an industrial hellhole once.

When it comes to comparing Twin Metals (really Antofagasta) and PolyMet (really Glencore), we have to compare apples to apples. The Embarrass River shown in the photo above is part of Tom Landwehr’s industrial hellhole. So is the Partridge River.

Partridge River – Rob Levine photo

If there is a failure of the PolyMet tailings dam, the toxic sludge will inundate the Embarrass River. Three tailings dam of the type that PolyMet wants to use have catastrophically failed in the last handful of years. One of them was a tailings dam at Mount Polley in Canada, where, you will be cheered to learn, the dam was designed by the same people who advised the State of Minnesota on PolyMet.

The Partridge River is adjacent to the south and east sides of the mine pit itself.

Both rivers are part of the Saint Louis River watershed, a major tributary to Lake Superior. We’ve been trying to clean up the St. Louis River for some time now. Polluting the Embarrass and Partridge Rivers isn’t going to help.

From a purely ecological standpoint, there isn’t a nickel’s worth of difference between the projects. Well, maybe except for the fact there are a lot of wild rice wetlands in the St. Louis watershed, guaranteed to the Ojibwe by treaty.

Every word from the pen of Tom Landwehr in his op-ed applies with equal force to the St. Louis River watershed. His sub rosa effort to distinguish Twin Metals from PolyMet is disingenuous dissembling.

I submit if you cannot see that, you are not paying attention.

Thanks for your feedback. If we like what you have to say, it may appear in a future post of reader reactions.