Follow the money
Some of you may have seen a letter to the editor in the Strib that I coauthored on the influence of mining money in Range politics. Here’s the letter:
State Rep. Dave Lislegard’s counterpoint (“We know mining. Our laws, processes work,” Sept. 3) says that Iron Rangers “will be here to hold companies accountable for their environmental performance.” When you take a closer look at the companies that have bankrolled Rep. Lislegard’s campaign, however, you have to wonder who is holding whom accountable.
According to a filed 2018 year-end campaign finance report, Lislegard received more than $50,000 in campaign contributions, most of them from the companies he claims that he will hold accountable for environmental pollution. He received the maximum $1,000 from: CEO of PolyMet Jon Cherry, Vice President and Treasurer of Cleveland Cliffs Celso Goncalves, PolyMet VP Bruce Richardson, Allete CEO and PolyMet Director Alan Hodnik, four other members of the Hodnik family, Enbridge VP John Swanson, and Christopher Knight, publisher of the unabashedly pro-mining Mesabi Daily News. [emphasis added]
Former Twin Metals VP Anne Williamson, plus lobbyists for PolyMet (including PolyMet VP of Public Affairs Brad Moore) and other mines and the steel industry all made contributions of $250 or above.
Not only did nearly all of Lislegard’s campaign funds come from companies and groups that stand to make money if copper-nickel mines open, he also works for Lakehead Constructors, which works as a contractor for the mining and steel industries. But none of this was disclosed in his commentary piece.
Minnesotans should connect the dots and recognize the influence these contributors have over Lislegard’s expressed opinion.
Janet Entzel and Steve Timmer
Entzel is a former DFL state representative from Minneapolis and former assistant commissioner of the Department of Corrections; Timmer is a retired Edina attorney.
All of the people identified in the letter are pretty easy to figure out, except for Celso Goncalves and maybe Alan Hodnik. In order to do that, it is helpful to cast yourselves back to October of 2001 and this lede from a press release:
(Duluth, MN)–Minnesota Power, a business of ALLETE, Inc. (NYSE:ALE), and Cleveland-Cliffs Inc (NYSE: CLE) announce that they have executed an Asset Purchase Agreement with LTV to acquire all of the assets of LTV Steel Mining Co. (LTVSMC). The LTVSMC mining operation was closed on Jan. 5, 2001, after LTV initiated a Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceeding. The purchase agreement is subject to approval from the U.S. Bankruptcy Court and satisfaction of other closing conditions.
Cleveland-Cliffs bought the mining assets of LTV, including the taconite processing plant and tailings impoundment at Hoyt Lakes; Allete bought utility generation and distribution assets, including a coal-fired power plant and associated “coal pile” at the late Taconite Harbor. That plant, one of the dirtiest in Minnesota, and the coal pile, too, are gone.
Cleveland-Cliffs is in the taconite mining business in Minnesota and Allete is the parent of Minnesota Power, a northern Minnesota electrical power generator and distributor. A lot of Minnesota Power’s big customers are mining companies.
It became known that there was substantial deferred maintenance and environmental liability arising out of LTV’s operation and (lack of) maintenance of the tailings impoundment – and the Minnesota DNR’s neglect of same – that Cleveland-Cliffs bought, and it sought to discharge that liability in bankruptcy but it could not.
The sale of the crushing plant and tailings impoundment to PolyMet Mining for use in a non-ferrous mine was a godsend to Cleveland-Cliffs and, well, to the DNR, too. But Cleveland-Cliffs took a pretty big haircut. I haven’t seen the agreement, but I believe PolyMet is supposed to take care of the tailings impoundment, or at least kick that can down the road, which is a load off the DNR’s shoulders. It explains in part why the DNR is such a cheerleader for the most dangerous kind of tailings storage: an upstream tailings dam of the type that has suffered three major failures in a handful of years, two in Brazil, and one in Canada in British Columbia, PolyMet’s home.
We can see why Celso would support a politician who would help the environmental liability cup pass from Cleveland-Cliffs!
Turning now to Alan Hodnik and his substantial brood, it is obvious that Minnesota Power would like to turn the LTV crushing plant and tailings impoundment pumps back into a paying customer. And Dave Lislegard is just the guy to help make it happen!
Parenthetically, Alan: just a little friendly advice. Circumvention, that is, making a campaign contribution through another, is a gross misdemeanor.
Every coal-fired electrical generating plant in Minnesota is scheduled to be retired by 2030, except one.
Go ahead. Guess which one.
If you guessed Minnesota Power’s Clay Boswell plant at Cohasset, go get yourself a cookie. The Clay Boswell plant is a big sucker, too. According to the linked article, it’s the 18th dirtiest coal plant in the country for coal combustion waste stored in surface impoundments, at least as of 2006, the most recent year available. The figures quoted for mercury release were 279 pounds and 8 million tons (say that again: 8 million tons) of C02 annually.
This is where miners get their power and where PolyMet would, too.
This is why when PolyMet touts tell you that the mine will help with the climate and the environment, they are blowing smoke somewhere.
Update: Here’s a little more push back. Keep reading mining sycophants!
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