Tag Archives: Lake Superior ad hoc Committee

A Reply to Dan Blondeau

When I sat down to reply to a comment from Dan Blondeau of Eagle Mine on my Mining Renaissance post, I found that I’d written what is, essentially, a new post. So I’m running my reply here instead of in the comments thread.

Here is Dan’s comment:

Louis and others commenting here – is there any way you would support mining anywhere? I highly doubt it. Large, long-life deposits are few and far between now. Smaller projects such as Eagle, Polymet and so on are becoming the typical scale of mining. Instead of just bashing the industry and focusing on events that happened decades ago, perhaps you could take a more positive and collaborative approach to your concerns. Thank you

Here’s my reply:

I take it that by “events that happened decades ago,” you are referring to the story told in my film 1913 Massacre. That story from what you correctly characterize as a bygone era of mining first drew me to the Upper Peninsula, and it would be dishonest or disingenuous to say that it doesn’t still color my thinking. But since completing that project I’ve tried to stay focused on what’s happening in the area now.

At the same time, the unresolved past and the present are not so easily kept apart. For example, the conversation after our screening of 1913 Massacre at the DeVos Art Museum last October went almost directly and without any prompting to the new mining up around Big Bay and across the Peninsula. I believe the film resonates with people in the UP (and in other parts of the country) not just because the immigrant experience it documents is the quintessential American experience, but also because the basic questions it raises are still very much alive today.

That aside, I am not sure why you read me as “bashing the industry” here. My post focused on sloppy and hopelessly compromised journalism. I don’t think of mining as something I would “support” or not support.  It would never occur to me to put it that way, and I’m not for or against mining per se. In some of my posts, especially those on Shefa Siegel’s work, I try to acknowledge mining’s crucial role in what Orwell calls “the metabolism of civilization”; and I’m trying to understand how bigger changes in the commodities markets and the global economic picture are driving the new mining around Lake Superior. But I also think it’s important to appreciate the real risks and the potential cost of copper and nickel mining operations in the Lake Superior watershed, and to question whether it really will create lasting prosperity for the UP or the Lake Superior region. Those are (for me) the big issues the new mining raises, and I think they are issues that any honest conversation about mining (or the development that mining brings) needs to take into account.

As I tried to suggest in my post, Kocazek just ignores them, and I wondered why she didn’t try to take them on – especially since she writes for a publication dedicated to water issues. And not just any publication: Circle of Blue, which was founded by J. Carl Ganter (who served as vice-chairman of the World Economic Forum Global Agenda Council on Water Security) and which has ties to – it is a “non-profit affiliate” of – the prestigious Pacific Institute.

As for taking “a more positive and collaborative approach,” I am all for it, or at least I am all for genuine collaboration. I don’t really know what a “positive…approach” would entail in this case apart from boosterism. As I say, I don’t consider myself a mining booster or a mining basher, but an observer, still (and no doubt always) an outsider, despite my many trips to the UP, exploring a place and trying my best to document what’s happening there. I’m open to having my views challenged and being shown where I am wrong or where there’s a better way to talk about or do things. (And for that reason I appreciate you taking the time to comment here.) I don’t think there can be any collaboration unless each party is willing and able to listen and – this is important – ready to yield to the other. In other words, listening goes beyond making concessions to the other in conversation: it means doing things differently in response to the other’s demands. (This is a theme I’ve been exploring in my posts on The Power of Asking, and one that I come up against over and over again when I write about mining issues.)

Am I often critical of what mining companies are doing in the UP and around Lake Superior? Sure, and I am troubled, as well, by the almost hubristic level of confidence the mining industry places in technology and engineering, even in the face of disasters like the Bingham Canyon collapse; its worrisome record on environmental and human rights issues nearly everywhere in the world mining is done; and the power and distorting influence it exerts on politicians and public debate – in the UP and elsewhere.

I still think there’s plenty of opportunity for collaboration and dialogue. If I did not, I would just call it quits; but giving up on dialogue is tantamount to giving up on people. In the area of human rights, for instance, I believe there’s still opportunity for collaboration around the Ruggie principles (despite the doubts I’ve expressed about them) and – in the Lake Superior region – around the United Nations Declaration on Indigenous Rights. Both frameworks (as well as the work done by the Lake Superior Binational Forum on Responsible Mining in the Lake Superior Basin) are decent places to start enumerating in a serious way the responsibilities and obligations that mining companies have in a region where human rights concerns and freshwater issues are intertwined.

In fact, I think genuine and ongoing collaboration on these efforts is essential, because I don’t think the mining industry can do it alone, or is the appropriate party to set the agenda here.

Why the Whining in Virginia Matters in Michigan

I heard conflicting reports about uranium mining when I was last in the Upper Peninsula.

Some people said the prospect of uranium mining next to Lake Superior was imminent — and that was their worst nightmare. Others dismissed it as nothing more than a rumor, or a “scare tactic” by environmentalists to put the kibosh on other kinds of mining.

Just to be clear, there has been uranium exploration in the Upper Peninsula since the 1950s. The map of active mining, mineral exploration and leases put together by the Lake Superior ad hoc Committee, which I mentioned in a previous post, shows active exploration right now at two sites in the Lake Superior region. One is near the Crystal Falls State Forest area, southwest of Marquette, in the vicinity of the Michigamme Reservoir. There is also active uranium exploration on the Canadian side, just north of the St. Mary’s River, between Sault Sainte Marie and Lake Superior Provincial Park.

If either of those sites turns out to be significant, pressure will build quickly to mine. An article in today’s Times about uranium exploration in Virginia suggests the lengths to which mining interests will go in order to exploit these valuable deposits. The Times reports that Virginia Uranium has spent more than $600,000 on campaign contributions and lobbying since 2008. They expect a haul worth $7 billion. They’ve flown Virginia lawmakers to France “to visit a tailings storage site,” and do whatever else politicians do when on an all expenses paid junket to France. And that’s only the start of the lobbying effort, the payola and the pitch to local communities.

Some of it is subtle. Virginia Uranium positions uranium mining as a national security issue and itself as “a leader in environmental stewardship.” The first claim is dubious and the second is an utterly meaningless statement when you are out to mine uranium, but it’s one I’ve heard echoed by mining companies and mining proponents operating in the Upper Peninsula.

There are other telling echoes here as well: in Virginia there are roadside signs saying “Stop Whining Start Mining,” according to the Times. The same signs started to appear in the Upper Peninsula once the new mining got underway. Maybe the rhyme comes easily to those with a big appetite for mineral extraction and a low tolerance for all this mewling about the environment. But it’s interesting, isn’t it, and at least worth noting, that the slogan also appears on bumper-stickers for sale on the website of the Acert Group — a “coalition of concerned private citizens” working “together with uranium exploration and mining companies.”

Stop the Whining Start the Mining Bumpersticker

From what I have been able to learn so far about the Acert Group, they are usually busy advocating uranium mining in Arizona. But now it appears that their concern, or at least their sloganeering, might extend to other parts of the country as well.

Update (1 Feb 2013)

Yesterday, the Virginia legislature abandoned a proposal to establish state regulations for uranium mining (which would have been tantamount to lifting the moratorium). State Senator John Watkins, a mining proponent, has now asked Governor Bob McDonnell to take executive action and ask state agencies to draw up the new regulations (which would be tantamount to lifting the moratorium).

Watkins is said to be “reviewing the request”. Still, Cale Jaffe of the Southern Environmental Law Center calls this setback for Virginia Uranium “a resounding victory.”

“This is not just environmentalists,” Jaffe said. “This is small business owners in Southside, it’s farmers, it’s parents of small children, it’s community leaders, it’s physicians — all these disparate voices coming together.”

Apparently the “whining” in Virginia has become a chorus of voices. The question is whether Governor McDonnell is listening, or does Virginia Uranium have his ear?