Posted by: mesabimisadventures | January 29, 2011

The Non-Debate Spins On

Yesterday, a Minnesota Senate Joint Committee hearing  was held at Hibbing Community College.  It was a much-appreciated opportunity to experience a hearing without having to travel down to St. Paul.  The Jobs and Economic Growth Committee and the Environment and Natural Resources Committee toured one of the taconite mines before the hearing to gain some perspective and hopefully, appreciation for the economic impact of the industry.

The majority of the hearing inspired no more than a shrug of my shoulders and a “yeah, yeah, same ol’, same ol’.”  The PolyMet debate has been going on for several years now and we’ve been hearing the same voices, pro and con, for most of that time.  Few of the characters or their approaches change and the wheels of progress spin like my tires before the 4WD kicks in. 

Could the 4WD please kick in on the PolyMet project already?

A decision must be made by Minnesotans regarding our management of the minerals contained within the Duluth Complex.  It’s a simple question without a simple answer.

Should Minnesotans allow non-ferrous mining within their state? 

The following terms should be banned from this discussion – Boundary Waters, Lake Superior, Northeastern Minnesota and Superior National Forest.  If water and air quality are important to us, then there should not be a greater value assigned to those factors based on their location.  There is zero reason that projects within this area should have to be subject to higher scrutiny than if this deposit was located south of Hinckley.  Our developments have just as much right to proceed with proper permits as any of the development projects that have occurred within the Metro area or throughout the agricultural areas of the State.  Air is air, water is water, people are people.  There is an intrinsic value to those three factors separate from their geographic location.  The Arrowhead region has a higher perceived environmental value; however, the fertile soils and prairie lands throughout the rest of the State are on par with it and regulations need to apply equally.

I spoke with a Senator after the hearing and because I didn’t ask him if he could be quoted, I’ll keep his name out of this posting.  I wish he would have told everyone what he told me, “we can do this and we can do it right.”  His attitude was akin to the front tires of my truck gripping the road and pulling us forward. 

We CAN do this and we CAN do it right.  However, we CAN’T do either if we can’t have honest discussions based on facts, not fears.  Unfortunately, those honest and solution-developing discussions are relegated to meetings between industry and the regulators because too many people cannot see in shades of gray or admit it publicly if they can.  Instead, we get public hearings with the same soundbites spinning away.

We don’t encourage honesty in our public forums and we all lose because of it.  To advance towards the middle is too often seen as being weak and capitulating.  If the environmental activists were to admit that people need solid employment for survival and that these metals could be mined in a significantly more sustainable way, both environmentally and socially than most places throughout the world, they would risk appearing as if they are caving into corporations.  If the pro-development crowd admitted that they have concerns for the environment also and that they also want to be assured this project will be done properly, there is a risk that environmental groups would use that admittance as a sign that there are doubts that it can be done safely.

It’s moments like yesterday that make me disappointed in adulthood.  It should be okay to admit that no one on either side of the discussion knows all of the answers and that both sides have valid concerns.  We won’t get anywhere as a region unless we’re able to have open discussions and look past the dreadlocks and the loafers and hear the underlying messages of both sides.  We all want sustainability – environmentally, socially and economically – whether we call it that or not. 

Both sides have ideas and energy that could push our Range economy forward in a powerful, creative, competitive way.

By viewing each other as enemies, we’re just spinning our wheels.

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