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Progressive Politics in Minnesota, the Nation, and the World

Rick Hansen Not Running For Congress But A Voice To Listen To

Category: Environment
Posted: 09/21/15 11:21

by Dave Mindeman

Last night at the CD2 Fundraiser, Rep. Rick Hansen announced that he would not seek to run for the 2nd District Congressional seat.

But he took the podium to make a much more substantive statement which pertained to money in politics and how environmental issues get shortchanged in the world of political attention.

He called money the pollution of politics. And it is. People encouraged Rick Hansen to run but the question asked most by the political people was "how much money can you raise?". They didn't ask about his stance on pollinators or clean water or air quality. They didn't ask about his admirable green record in the legislature. No, it was first about the money.

Rick has been a stalwart on environmental issues for years. Whenever air or water quality needs someone to speak out, it has been Rick Hansen. He isn't flashy or flamboyant and the issues he champions aren't headline grabbing, but you could say that one of Minnesota's resources is its environmental standards, and Rick Hansen has been a factor in keeping that standard high.

We have a serious problem looming ahead of us. Environmental issues need to be addressed now while we can still act on them. That's why mining must be challenged about its impact. That's why water testing needs to be examined constantly. That why coal fired power plants need to go away.

As Rick put it, Minnesota is not about coal and oil, it is about wind and solar. This state has the opportunity to lead the nation toward environmental standards that are compatible with a pollution free future.

Rick's decision not to run for Congress was probably the right one, but his observations on our need to make environmental concerns a larger focus is also the right one.

He may often be a solitary voice in the legislature on these things, but the state of Minnesota is lucky to have him doing just that.

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An Important Sepcial Election In District 3A

Category: Environment
Posted: 09/16/15 17:48

by Dave Mindeman

Minnesota Legislative District 3A will be having a special election in December. This was the result of the passing of Rep. David Dill. For all practical purposes, the successor will be determined in the DFL primary election which will happen on September 29th.

There are some important things to note.

1 - There will be no endorsement. Paul Fish, the DFL Chair, said...

"The voters of 3A deserve the opportunity to select the DFL candidate who best represents their interests,'' Fish said in a statement published in the International Falls Journal. "Therefore, a DFL endorsing convention for the 3A seat will not be held. Participation in the Sept. 29 primary is encouraged."

There is a candidate in the race who has won the endorsement in this district before....his name is Bill Hansen. He was defeated in the primary by David Dill twice (the first time was very close). Bypassing an endorsing convention was a bit unexpected. However, this is Sen. Tom Bakk's district and Fish is, more or less, a Bakk lackey. We can probably assume that there were instructions given in this regard.

The other DFLers in the primary are Koochiching County Commissioner Rob Ecklund and Ely City Councilor Heidi Omerza.

2 - Former GOP candidate has filed as a Democrat. Eric Johnson was the GOP candidate that ran against Dill in the general election last time. He lost big. But he is bound to get a number of crossover votes in the primary and in a multi-candidate field, who knows?

3 - December election has a GOP and an Independent candidate. Roger Skraba, a former mayor of Ely, will be the Republican candidate. To make matters more confusing, he has run as a DFLer and an Independent in the past. Kelsey Johnson, a former grocers lobbyist, is not affiliated with the Independence Party....she just got the required signatures and is running unaffiliated. Complicated enough?

But here is the big issue. Mining. This race has one candidate who will make sure that Polymet meets its environmental obligations - and that candidate is Bill Hansen. The other candidates all support Polymet's bid for sulfide mining to one degree or another.

Senator Tom Bakk is maintaining a "technical" neutrality; but the fact that there is no endorsing convention (of which Hansen was the favorite) was not a "judgment" call. It was decreed.

This will still be a complicated election. It is hard to know how the voters will split. Minnesota Brown (Aaron Brown), a northern Minnesota blogger, gives Omerza the edge in geography, Ecklund, an advantage with union voters, Hansen the favorite of environmentalists, and Eric Johnson, a constituency of moderates and GOP crossovers.

A Bill Hansen victory would be a win for progressives and would also send a message to Majority Leader Tom Bakk. Hansen is endorsed by the DFL Environmental Caucus - their first legislative endorsement since they organized.....and he also can claim the recent endorsement of Duluth Mayor Don Ness.

Hansen will probably have an uphill battle but there are too many variables to predict an outcome.

This race will be one to watch.
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Polymet: More Troubling Data

Category: Environment
Posted: 08/23/15 16:21

by Dave Mindeman

Polymet and their supporters have complained about the length of time it takes to get approval for their operation. But some of the problems that lead to those delay can be attributed to Polymet itself.

According to a report published in the Timberjay on August 19....

For more than a decade, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, the U.S. Forest Service, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have informed the public that potential contaminants from PolyMet's proposed NorthMet mine, near Hoyt Lakes, would flow south into the St. Louis River watershed.

The southward flow is important because that would indicate potential contaminants would flow away from the BWCA. And the proper government entities have signed off on that assumption.

However, it would seem that this rationale is based on one study. And the sponsor of that study may have some bias....

Barr Engineering, the PolyMet contractor that actually ran the water flow model used in the study, made fundamental miscalculations, rendering the results of this key element of the environmental study invalid. Barr works as a consultant for PolyMet, yet the lead agencies have relied heavily on its technical work throughout the environmental review process.

Another group decided to run a full study on their own...

GLIFWC, (Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission) which represents 11 Indian bands in Minnesota, Michigan, and Wisconsin, maintains its own scientific research staff. The agency, based in Odanah, Wis., is the only entity, other than Barr Engineering, which has actually run the MODFLOW model, a highly complex computer program for determining water flow through the environment.

This study had a dramatically different result....

But GLIFWC's Environmental Section Leader John Coleman, in his June letter, says his agency's own model run shows dramatically different results, and points to the primary contaminant flow running north, into the Peter Mitchell pits, a series of taconite pits operated by Northshore Mining, located high on the Laurentian Divide, near Babbitt. The pits, which sit about a mile north of the proposed PolyMet mine, currently discharge in several directions. Upon closure, however, all of the discharge is slated to enter Birch Lake, part of the Kawishiwi River, a major BWCAW watershed.

North? A 180 degree difference here. And an indication that the BWCA would be directly affected. Why the big difference???

Yet, according to GLIFWC, Barr got it wrong when it set the assumptions while calibrating the MODFLOW model, using water levels within the Peter Mitchell pits that were ten meters too high for the time period in question.

You see, Barr based their assumptions on water levels from 1996. Here is the important part of that....these levels were among the highest levels ever recorded in the pits.

This level is important because only a high water level would force the flow to head south instead of north. The more likely water levels when the mine would be in operation are 300 feet below those assumptions. And this would lead to a northward flow. Bad news for the Boundary Waters.

The governmental agencies respond by saying this in a memo....

Site specific groundwater monitoring data and the measured lack of surface water effects near the dewatered Northshore pits are consistent with the conceptual model that downward leakage from surficial deposits into bedrock could create a groundwater mound. This would prevent the formation of a northward bedrock flowpath from the proposed NorthMet pits to the Northshore pits.

Except the GLIFWC spokesperson says...

"There's no feasible mechanism for such a mound to form, naturally."

So what is the bottom line here? Well, the agencies say that they can put together a "monitoring program" to watch the flow. Any northward flow would then be addressed and preventative measures taken.

But can we be confident of that, given the history here and the lack of finding out about it in the original study?

Polymet complains about the slowness of progress, yet we continue to find flaws in the data. Bias in the study sponsors. And excuses from the regulators.

We need to have a full and complete study done here from an independent agency that has no stake in the outcome. Too much time and money has been spent by stakeholders.

Can't we do this right?
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