POLITICAL MATTERS: Jan 2018

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By Mordecai Specktor

#Resist in 2018

In 2017, President Dumbass didn’t start a nuclear war, and for that we can be grateful. His administration – an unsavory gang of right-wing zealots, white supremacists, craven opportunists and grifters – did, however, begin an assault on the natural environment and on American Indian sacred lands.

In January, just days after taking office, Trump signed executive orders to fast-track approval of the Keystone XL and Dakota Access oil pipelines. (I seriously doubt that he could explain the details of either project.) The #NoDAPL movement energized American Indian activists across the country; and a remarkable camp of Water Protectors became a virtual city at Standing Rock.

And under the aegis of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt, Big Oil and multinational mining corporations began to see a clear path to the rape and pillage of federal lands.

In early December, Trump reduced the size of two national monuments in Utah, over the objections of local tribes. The Bears Ears National Monument was reduced by 85 percent, and the Grand Staircase-Escalante monument was halved. The move opened up thousands of acres to oil and gas drilling, mining, logging and other commercial ventures.

The Navajo Nation, along with other tribes and environmental groups have vowed to contest Trump’s decision in court. “We will stand and fight all the way,” said Russell Begaye, president of the Navajo Nation, according to the New York Times. Begaye added that the U.S. government has already taken “millions of acres of my people’s land.”

And in late December, lawyers for the U.S. Interior Department reversed the Obama administration’s decision not to renew leases for the Twin Metals Minnesota copper-nickel mining project in northeastern Minnesota.

The opinion by the Interior Department’s top lawyer means that the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest service will have to reconsider the lease renewal application made by Twin Metals in 2012.

The Twin Metals mining scheme, which is focused on the Maturi mineral deposit near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW), would extract copper, nickel, platinum, gold and silver from an underground mine to the east of Birch Lake. An estimated 20,000 tons of mineral ore per day would be extracted from the mine, according to the company’s website (twin-metals.com).

Doug Niemala, national campaign manager of the Ely-based Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters, called the Trump Interior Department’s decision “a big fat Christmas gift for a giant foreign mining corporation willing to do anything to exploit the watershed of Minnesota’s crown jewel wilderness. It runs contrary to fact, contrary to the law, and contrary to the views of Minnesota voters who love the Boundary Waters and rely on it for thousands of jobs, world-class hunting and fishing, and some of the cleanest water on Earth. We plan to challenge this illegal decision in court.”

Both the Twin Metals Minnesota project and PolyMet Mining’s NorthMet copper-nickel mine and processing facility lie within the 1854 Treaty Ceded Territory, which covers five and half million acres in Minnesota’s Arrowhead Region. The Ojibwe bands in northeastern Minnesota retain their right to hunt, fish and gather in this vast territory that covers all, or portions of, six counties. The Fond du Lac, Grand Portage and Bois Forte Bands are “cooperating agencies” in the environmental review process for the NorthMet project, which has the potential to pollute ground and surface waters with acidic mine discharges. Of particular concern are wild rice beds, which are sensitive to sulfate in lakes.

The Twin Metals project is still in the exploration stage. Twin Metals Minnesota is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Chilean mining giant Antofagasta plc, one of the largest copper producers in the world.

As I wrote in November, Gov. Mark Dayton finally expressed his support for the PolyMet mine, but continued to oppose the Twin Metals sulfide mining project. “It’s a very different watershed,” he told the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

“It’s really important to understand that Twin Metals has not yet proposed its mining project,” said Bob McFarlin, the spokesperson for Twin Metals Minnesota.

During a phone conversation in late December, McFarlin told me that Twin Metals “is working on developing a proposal that will be submitted to state and federal regulators sometime within the next couple of years, before environmental review in an environmental impact statement process. A lot of people attempt to describe definitively what the Twin Metals project is, what environmental impacts they believe it will have, etc. And it is very premature to try and do that without a specific proposal being put forth and it going into the environmental review process.”