The letter to Gov. Tim Walz signed by a majority of Republican legislators and a handful of Democrats from the Iron Range (“Several lawmakers voice support for PolyMet mine,” Aug. 9) is really the first response from supporters of the increasingly controversial PolyMet project. While we disagree with their position, we applaud the fact that they are willing to publicly engage their detractors. It also makes us wonder why so many of our statewide leaders, including our governor, senators and legislative leaders, refuse to tell us why they support sulfide mining and further decline to participate in public meetings. Is not civic engagement a core component of a democracy?
We are often reminded that if we fail to learn from history, we are destined to relive it. Today, we universally condemn the Watergate scandal. Yet, what did we really learn from it? Have our leaders created a more open and accountable government? Perhaps not.
John Dean, both the villain and hero of Watergate, in his book “Conservatives Without Conscience” notes how the George W. Bush administration not only manipulated the truth to shape the rationale for the Iraq war but went to authoritarian lengths to hide the truth from the public. That is precisely what happened previously with President Richard Nixon in Watergate.
And today we see President Donald Trump torturing the Constitution and using authoritarian methods in order to preserve the secrecy that surrounds the allegations of criminality, abuse of power and conflicts of interest.
Here in Minnesota, Lake Superior and the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness are in play. At a time when it is projected that more than a quarter of the world’s population will not have adequate access to drinkable water, why are we putting more than 20% of the world’s fresh water at risk?
Now, if there are adequate safeguards to prevent the mountains of mining waste from leaching arsenic, mercury and other harmful chemicals into our pristine waters as the signers of the letter have stated, then why not explain this improvement to the public in open hearings? And if the public’s health is not at risk, then why have all these leaders, including both Walz and the previous governor, Mark Dayton, been so adamant against a public health study? After all, virtually every medical organization in Minnesota has petitioned for one.
Additionally, there remain other concerns. Jobs are not guaranteed, and with the increased utilization of robots in the mining industry, that is vital. Further, the indemnification coverage does not include reimbursement for harmful leakage or even the collapse of a sludge mountain as occurred in Brazil where some 240 people were killed.
The one positive note is that Walz recently met privately with officials of Glencore, PolyMet’s majority owner, to urge them to sign the agreement and assume liability (“Walz seeks assurances on PolyMet mine plan,” Aug. 13). This is important, because PolyMet has considerable debt with few discernible assets. However, Glencore has so far refused. This stance is wholly unacceptable. Glencore, which owns more than 70% of PolyMet, is setting up a scenario whereby it will receive the profits, exit and leave Minnesotans with all the costs and damages. Considering Glencore’s reputation as an international rogue and the fact that it is currently under investigation by the U.S. Justice Department, one wonders why we are even doing business with them.
This entire matter screams out for public legislative hearings. Why is it that when there was a dispute over the renaming of Lake Calhoun in Minneapolis, legislative leaders could not rush the matter fast enough to the Legislature for immediate hearings and resolution, yet when the most important and most expensive contract in the history of Minnesota is before them, they idly stand by and refuse to let the public in?
No, we have seen over the course of history too many catastrophic events due to secrecy and the willful denial of the public’s right to know. Just ask the people of Flint, Mich. That must not happen again and it must not happen in Minnesota. It is time for everyone to step up. Our colleges, universities, civic and professional organizations certainly have the capacity to get the public more engaged with talks, panel discussions and debates. And our media, which preaches openness, must now advocate for it.
Once again, Minnesota, which led the nation in the 1970s in opening up the processes of government, can demonstrate its commitment to good government by letting the sunshine in.
Tom Berkelman, DFL-Duluth, was a member of the Minnesota House from 1977 to 1983. Arne H. Carlson was a Republican governor of Minnesota from 1991 to 1999. Janet Entzel, DFL-Minneapolis, was a member of the Minnesota House from 1975 to 1984.