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Environment

Serious obstacles for PolyMet

by Dan Burns on February 5, 2016 · 0 comments

stoppolymetAnd I’m a little more confident, these days, that they won’t be overcome.
 

Paula Maccabee still holds out hope that the state and federal agencies whose permission is needed to open the door to copper–nickel mining in Minnesota will yet come to their senses — but just in case they don’t, she is prepared to sue.
 
As attorney for WaterLegacy…Maccabee submitted an 80–page comment to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR), alleging violations of the federal Clean Water Act…
 
Now that the “Co–Lead Agencies” (PolyMet, the DNR, the US Army Corps of Engineers, and the US Forest Service) have finalized their plans, PolyMet can begin applying for a multitude of federal, state, and local operational permits — and mining critics can begin sharpening their legal arguments to fight back.
 
Maccabee says the Final Environmental Impact Statement violates Section 404 of the Clean Water Act, which governs the regulation of discharge into American waterways. “In their words, if you want to destroy the waters of the United States, there are specific requirements under the Clean Water Act.”
(Zenith City News)

But righteous people may not even have to go to court.
 

The announcement late last Wednesday that Glencore had agreed to loan PolyMet another $11 million to pay for an update to its definitive feasibility study, was greeted by some as a piece of good news — that suggests the giant Swiss-based commodities broker still sees potential in the company’s NorthMet copper-nickel mine despite the recent collapse in metals prices.
 
Yet the terms of the loan, and the likely results of the feasibility update, point to a project that’s teetering on life support. While PolyMet saw a bump in its stock price in November with the release of the Final Environmental Impact Statement, investors have grown increasingly pessimistic ever since. As of this week, the company’s stock price had recovered slightly, to 89 cents, but is still down 20-percent since its post-FEIS peak. Savvy investors can’t be unaware that major copper mines around the world are being shuttered by companies like Glencore, Rio Tinto, and others, in a desperate attempt to stem the financial bleeding and the production oversupply that has cut copper prices in half from their peaks in the late 2000s.
 
The nickel market has been even more brutal, as prices for the metal have fallen by nearly 75 percent from the levels that PolyMet had assumed in its 2008 update of its feasibility study…
 

Even if an updated financial assessment shows a modest profit, it’s difficult to imagine the scenario under which the massively debt-laden Glencore opts to sink another $650 million into copper-nickel production it needs like a hole in the head.
(Timberjay)

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Southwest Minnesota’s water

by Dan Burns on January 15, 2016 · 1 comment

prairieTalking both quality and quantity. A good way for me to get a handle on issues like this is to do a blog post, hence, the following. It’s not meant to be very partisan, though it does reflect that like most people I am pro-environment and pro-sustainability.

 
Drought’s an issue now, and it’s extremely likely to worsen.
 

Yet both those droughts pale in comparison to the severity of drought projected to befall those regions — which encompass all or part of 17 states from California to Louisiana to Minnesota — during the latter half of the 21st century if greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise according to a new study published in Science Advances. Both regions are all but guaranteed to experience a severe drought that would last at least a decade, with the odds of a drought lasting multiple decades at about 80 percent. In comparison, the chances of a multidecadal drought occurring during 1950-2000 was less than 10 percent.
(Climate Central)

This has a plethora of information more specific to Minnesota:
 

But even though better distribution systems have solved some problems, water troubles persist in the region today.
 
…the Mankato-based Center for Rural Policy and Development wondered in a report, “How many cities that would otherwise have growing economies are held back because their water supply or their infrastructure is strained to the point where the state must impose a moratorium on adding one more home bathroom or business restroom?”
(MPR)

The proposed Lewis & Clark Regional Water System, which brings water into Minnesota from the Missouri River aquifer in South Dakota, is obviously meant to help out quite a bit, but getting it fully funded has proven to be quite the Sisyphean undertaking. Federal funding was largely cut off in 2010. The Minnesota legislature came up with some money in 2014, and it looks like the feds will now come up with some more as well. But I have not been able to find anything definitive on when this thing might actually get fully financed and, subsequently, done. And, in light of the above about drought, that even an entirely completed and fully functioning LCRWS is anything more than a holding action is probably not realistic.
 
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111022-N-OH262-320OK, there is actually a long way to go before Minnesota’s government can be seriously said to have “gone green.” But steps are being taken in the right direction, including:
 
– A snazzy website devoted to climate change issues. It’s by the Minnesota Environmental Quality Board, which includes the heads of nine state agencies.
 

“Admin seeks solar power for state facilities’ energy mix.”

 
– From last month:

 

The Minnesota Department of Administration’s (Admin) Green Fleet policies have been nationally recognized by the National Association of Fleet Administrators (NAFA). In its first ever accreditation of sustainable fleets, NAFA recognized 13 public entities from around the nation and Canada…
 
Governor Dayton committed state agencies to reducing their carbon footprint in Executive Order 11-13 by making their buildings and activities more sustainable and using clean energy resources. Since 2013 Admin’s Fleet Services has already reduced gasoline consumption by more than 16 percent through use of cleaner fuels and 94 percent of the fleet is now capable of operating with cleaner fuel. The department has increased overall fuel efficiency by adding 78 hybrid and six electric vehicles. Further, a telematics initiative is currently being piloted to provide greater data on vehicle use in order to design the most appropriately sized and efficiently managed fleet to meet agency needs.
(Minnesota Department of Administration)

And I have yet to see wild howls of outrage, about any or all of the above, from right-wing legislators, or the state’s conservative politicos in general. Maybe I used the wrong search parameters when I went looking just now, but I don’t think so.
 
So bashing this must not be seen as a political winner, at least for the time being. Of course, Minnesota produces neither coal nor oil, to speak of. But it’s still hard to believe that the righties plan to leave it alone indefinitely. Maybe the order hasn’t come down from the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). But it’s important not to fall into (as I’ve done, myself) thinking that that loathsome outfit must be involved in all things wingnut. Minnesota’s conservatives are entirely capable of producing a veritable cornucopia of very bad, stupid ideas of their own.
 
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miningThis is from December 22, and is based on the release of the Environmental Protection Agency review of PolyMet’s Final Environmental Impact Statement.
 

A quick read of the cover letter the Environmental Protection Agency released yesterday with its thoughts on the PolyMet Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) would appear to show a federal agency warming to the idea of authorizing the state’s first ever sulfide mine.
 
But the four pages of detailed comments attached to the letter reveal a different narrative showing that federal regulators remain concerned about the lack of data and lack of specificity on a number of the key issues of the proposal…
 

The EPA confirms northward flow of polluted water into the BWCA and Voyageurs National Park watershed “is a possibility” and that “further impact assessment is needed.”

(Mining Truth)

Let’s say that you’re at work, out partying, or whatever, and are having a polite, informative conversation about this issue with someone who has not yet made up her mind. The likelihood of the project fouling northern Minnesota’s pristine wilderness preserves is one of the points that I think most worth emphasizing. Two others:

 
Glencore is a vile company run by sleazeballs and with a horrific record of labor and environmental abuses. There is every reason to believe that it will cut corners every way it can on environmental protection, pay and treat its workers poorly, shut down everything whenever metal prices slump, and eventually cut and run, laughing all the way to the mega-Swiss bank, as Minnesotans are stuck with the enormous long-term cleanup bill. That one is especially effective because people hate feeling that they’re being lied to and taken advantage of.

 
– That same Glencore doesn’t even want to provide a reasonable damage deposit, as an honest indicator of worthy intent. Everyone understands damage deposits, and most have had to personally provide them sometime in their own lives.
 
If you can get people taking something personally (because they should), that’s good persuasion that works.
 

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Gone round the bend in Oregon

by Dog Gone on January 4, 2016 · 1 comment

So, we have the crazy Bundy bunch (nothing like the wholesome Brady bunch) out in Oregon, making asses of themselves to start out the new year. What a bunch of maroons, who apparently are more likely to be turning blue with cold than any shade of red soon.  Think Progress has the best review of the details, here.  It is NOTHING like what the right would have you believe.  Here is the essential element omitted in most of the recent media coverage:

 

The Hammonds set a fire in 2001 that ultimately burned 139 acres of BLM land. The ranchers say they began it on their own land with agency approval, but prosecutors say they were in fact seeking to cover up illegal deer hunting on the BLM acreage near their property. A second, much smaller fire in 2006 burned another acre of BLM land during a “burn ban” imposed to allow agency firefighters to combat a blaze caused by lightning.

I liked the way the STrib described these losers in the location they chose to occupy.

 

“…the refuge area, which is remote even by rural Oregon standards.”

So far, it doesn’t seem as if anyone cares, at least not in a positive way. As noted on FB by comedian Andy Borowitz, who has equally sharp wits and tongue:

 

OK, by now I’ve heard a lot of great names for the Oregon gang: “y’all-qaeda,” “yee-hawdists,” “yokel haram.” But I think my favorite is “f*cking idiots.” http://bit.ly/1ODXgOG

And all hope of practical support seems to have failed from the right wing nut job militia sector; for example the Oathkeepers, who ran away scared from daddy Cliven Bundy, are actively discouraging their members and others from supporting Bundy Jr. aka Bundy light(in the sense department) by calling this latest farce the opposite of the Bundy Ranch, per the ever-vigilant (as distinct from vigilante right wing nuts), Right Wing Watch noted:

 

Oath Keepers Urge Members To Back Off Oregon Standoff: ‘This Is The Opposite Of The Bundy Ranch’

After sons of rancher Cliven Bundy led armed militia members in occupying a federal building in Oregon in protest of a federal court ruling regarding two ranchers who were sentenced to jail time for arson on federal lands, at least one “Patriot” group is urging its members to “stay out of” the situation: The Oath Keepers.

The leader of the extremist Oath Keepers, one of the biggest players in the standoff at the Bundy ranch in Nevada, thinks that the Bundy brothers have gone too far. In a statement issued on New Year’s Day, Oath Keepers leader Stewart Rhodes said that although he’s sympathetic to Dwight and Steven Hammond, the ranchers convicted of arson, he wants no part in the Bundy sons’ takeover of a federal wildlife refuge because the Hammonds had not asked for help.

In a video statement, Rhodes said that the Oregon situation is “exactly the opposite of the Bundy ranch,” claiming that while militia groups “went to Bundy ranch to prevent that family from being Waco’d,” the current standoff is being “manufactured by potheads who want a fight” and is no longer a “peaceful protest.” He added that the Hammonds “were found guilty by a jury of their peers.”

It is a distinction without meaning or merit; the Bundy’s have been properly found guilty plenty of times and are equally deserving of being behind bars for their lawlessness and looting of federal land too, which takes away valued resources out of ALL our pockets. A jury of peers is just as legitimate, neither more nor less, than any other court in the country. The notion put forward by the Bundy’s and the rest of the unraveling lunatic fringe is that they are entitled to something that does not belong to them, but rather belongs to US to YOU AND ME, as citizens and residents of these United States. The government is all of us; the people they are attempting to screw over are the rest of us, who are not holed up as trespassers and vandals indulging delusions of relevance.

 

Time for a good yawn, and for these morons to get a good kick in the seat of their pants, which appears to be the part of their anatomy they use to attempt thought, (a failed aspiration).
 
Comment below fold.
 
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Oil-Fields-19a-Belridge-California-USA-2003Reprehensible.
 

“This will certainly lead to more drilling,” Radha Adhar, a federal policy representative for the Sierra Club, told ThinkProgress. Oil Change International, an anti-fossil-fuel group, estimated that lifting the ban will result in 476,000 more barrels per day by 2020. The American Petroleum Institute (API), which is pushing for a lift to the ban, came up with 500,000. In a political landscape where different interests can come up with very different estimates, it is telling that the two groups converged closely.
 
According to a report from the Center for American Progress, repealing the ban would result in an additional 515 million metric tons of carbon pollution each year — roughly equal to 108 million more passenger cars or 135 coal-fired power plants. The increase in extraction — primarily expected to come from fracking — will be accompanied by an increase in transportation from the oil fields to the coast, which means more pipelines and more oil trains, which pose additional environmental threats.
 
And the increased production won’t make the United States any more energy independent. In fact, American oil refineries are expected to take a hit, as much of the oil will be shipped overseas. Overseas refineries are cheaper — and less-regulated — than American ones. Rory Houseman, a spokesman for United Steelworkers, told ThinkProgress that domestic refineries need the export ban to stay competitive while still complying with clear air regulations. “One of the reasons they have been able to afford [clean air regulations] is the oil export ban,” Houseman said in October.
(Think Progress)

It’s unlikely that this will mean a significant bump in gas prices in the short term. The thing is, world demand for oil won’t perk up much until the world economy improves. And that won’t happen until all of this “austerity” crap ends. And that’s not likely to happen soon, because where conservatives are in charge they are inevitably too g*d-damned pathetically gutless to ever admit that they’re wrong.
 
But for the environment, and regarding the continued political empowerment of Big Filthy Fossil Fuels, this is beyond awful. Yes, some good things were obtained in return, like restoring the Land and Water Conservation Fund (for three years), and a big win for solar and wind. But you have to question why this was chosen as the “blue” bargaining chip. It’s the GOP that had its back to the wall, as a government shutdown would have killed them for the next election.
 
Here in the U.S., we have Big Coal on the ropes, and we were headed that way with Big Oil. This is a huge step backward.
 
Comment below fold.
 
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Tar Sands by Garth Lenz_0From last week.
 

A federal judge rejected the key parts of a lawsuit brought by tribal and environmental groups that sought to block a capacity expansion on the Alberta Clipper crude oil pipeline, saying Wednesday that the courts don’t have the authority to intervene at this stage…
 
The plaintiffs, including the Sierra Club, issued statements saying that while the court may not have the authority to stop the project, President Barack Obama does. They noted that a fully expanded Alberta Clipper would carry more tar sands oil than the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, which Obama killed last month because it would have undercut U.S. efforts to achieve a global climate change deal…
 
“Now, just as he did with Keystone, President Obama can call for a full review of Enbridge’s plans and ultimately reject a pipeline expansion that would do irreparable harm to our climate, our environment, and our public health,” said Lena Moffitt, director of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Dirty Fuels Campaign.
(MPR)

Will President Obama come through again? I hope so, but I have no idea. It may help if public opinion among key groups can be motivated the way it was with Keystone. If I knew how to quickly and easily make that happen, I’d say so.
 

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Two unfortunate developments on PolyMet

by Dan Burns on December 8, 2015 · 0 comments

miningThe first is that a firm so closely tied to mining interests is being used. Our elected officials should know better.
 

One of Minnesota’s most prominent environmental organizations wants Gov. Mark Dayton to nix the selection of a Washington D.C.-based law firm to defend the state’s pending decision on whether or not to allow copper and nickel mining on the edge of the Boundary Waters.
 
On (December 2), Attorney General Lori Swanson formally appointed Crowell & Moring as special counsel to assist with potential lawsuits over PolyMet Mining Corporation’s proposed open pit mine near Hoyt Lakes. Litigation over the pending decision is widely seen as inevitable, whether or not the requisite permits are issued.
 
In a Dec. 4 letter, Kathryn Hoffman, staff attorney at the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, urged Dayton to dump Crowell & Moring because of the firm’s extensive representation of mining companies and continued role as counsel for the industry trade group, the National Mining Association.
(Minnesota Lawyer)

Gov. Mark Dayton has decided not to conduct a human health assessment of the proposed PolyMet copper mine project, agreeing with state regulatory officials that the study isn’t needed.
 
Health Commissioner Ed Ehlinger, Natural Resources Commissioner Tom Landwehr and Pollution Control Commissioner John Linc Stine agreed that the human health impacts of the project were well covered in the environmental review that is just now wrapping up after nearly 10 years…
 
Paula Maccabee, attorney for Water Legacy, said the commissioners are wrong that human health impacts were well-covered in the environmental review.
 
Maccabee cited an independent review by a Canadian mercury expert who found the mine and processing center near Hoyt Lakes would create a significant risk of raising toxic methylmercury levels in local waterways, including the St. Louis River.
(Duluth News Tribune)

If the greedhead despoilers’ plans are to be blocked, it will presumably involve some combination of Governor Dayton requiring a suitably ample damage deposit, as in ten figures’ worth (I don’t think he’ll kill the project outright, hopefully I’m wrong); legal challenges; public opinion continuing to turn against the project; and/or continued low prices for copper and nickel. Based on that, stopping this thing absolutely can happen.
 

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desertFor the most part I avoid cynicism, but I admit that I can’t entirely evade a bit of it regarding the Paris climate talks. As far as I’m concerned, I don’t expect a lot in practical, real-world terms, but anything that is agreed to and has a reasonable chance of being complied with is better than nothing. What I’m doing here is passing along some relevant items.
 

President Barack Obama and leaders from nearly every country are in Paris (Monday) to begin international climate talks that are widely expected to produce an agreement to cut global greenhouse gas emissions. Such an agreement will represent a huge step forward in the race to avert a climate crisis, even if the race will not have yet been won.
 
The insufficiencies of what’s being discussed are clear. The agreement is likely to be composed of voluntary pledges by each country, not a legally binding treaty. And the pledges countries have been making in the run-up to the talks fall short of cutting enough greenhouse gas to limit the rise in global temperature to the scientist-recommended amount of 2°C.
 
Nevertheless, the pledged actions beat inaction. As CNBC reports, “the climate change damages that would result from the 2.7 to 3.7 degrees Celsius of warming these initial cuts would provide, while severe, are still much lower than would result from the 4 to 6 degrees Celsius of warming expected without them.”
(Campaign for America’s Future)

EPA Finding on Fracking’s Water Pollution Disputed by Its Own Scientists

 
Top Democratic pollsters agree: climate change is a winning issue for Democrats

 
New Bill Would Keep Fossil Fuel Reserves On Public Lands In The Ground
 

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How is climate change like racism?

by Eric Ferguson on November 26, 2015 · 1 comment

How is climate change like racism? Conservatives don’t want to believe it’s even real.
 
Sorry if that setup led to an expectation of a funny punchline instead of a literal similarity.
 
Anyone reading this site is likely familiar with science denial. Pretending the country doesn’t have a racism problem might be called news denial since even if someone doesn’t experience racism in their personal lives, it’s not like examples don’t make the news. Still, some conservatives don’t want to believe it, saying things like, “I Don’t Think There’s Racism” as if they lived in a bubble. “As if”?
 
Just this week, Donald Trump tweeted a factually wrong — in a racist way — graphic that came from a neo-nazi; blacks participating in a protest against police abuse of black civilians at the 4th police precinct in Minneapolis were shot by white supremacists.
 
And the Republican Party in Minnesota’s 7th congressional district gained unwanted attention with this posting to its Facebook page (click to enlarge):
 
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