Political Matters
Political Matters: It takes a pillage
Monday, June 09 2014
Written by Mordecai Specktor,
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The global conglomerate Glencore Xstrata operates a copper mine in Mufulira, Zambia, which allegedly is poisoning nearby residents with extremely high sulfur dioxide emissions. The Facing Finance website ( relayed a recent SRF (Swiss Radio and Television) Rundschau report from Zambia, where “the mine’s activities have had a negative impact on local communities, causing breathing difficulties, asthma, and even deaths.”

Normally, a report from remote Africa about environmental pollution wouldn’t be fodder for a “Political Matters” column; however, the company involved now owns a 29 percent stake in Canadian-based PolyMet Mining, which is seeking government approval for its NorthMet copper-nickel-precious metals mine near Babbit, in northeastern Minnesota. The proposed mine and mill are within the 1854 Treaty Ceded Territory; and the Ojibwe bands in the region – Fond du Lac, Bois Forte and Grand Portage – are “cooperating agencies” in the environmental review process.

Political Matters: Indigenous Peoples Day in Minneapolis
Thursday, May 01 2014
Written by Mordecai Specktor,
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"In Fourteen Hundred and Ninety Two,

Columbus sailed the ocean blue.

But everything else in the childhood rhyme,

Ignores the historic details and genocide."

— From “Fourteen Hundred Ninety-Two (The Rewrite),” by Dana W. Hall

Where should we start? In 1492, Cristoforo Colombo, an explorer from the Republic of Genoa (now part of Italy), sailing under the flag of the Crown of Castile (now Spain), set off to find the fastest route to the gold and spices of the Orient. He set off westward in the Atlantic Ocean, and ended up in the Caribbean, quite a long way from East Asia.

On his first voyage, Christopher Columbus, who was wrong in nearly all of his geographic suppositions, came ashore on an island in the present day Commonwealth of the Bahamas. Historians are not sure of which island in the Bahamas corresponds to the island that the Italian explorer called San Salvador.

Political Matters: Next steps for PolyMet
Friday, April 04 2014
Written by Mordecai Specktor,
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In March, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency weighed in on the Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement on the PolyMet sulfide mine, near Babbit, in northeastern Minnesota. The EPA gave the copper-nickel mining project – which is called NorthMet – a rating of “EC-2,” with the “EC” standing for “environmental concerns.”

“The rating means that federal regulators still have concerns about potential environmental effects of the proposed $650 million project and that they want to see more analysis and a clearer explanation of how pollution problems will be resolved,” the Star Tribune noted, regarding the EC-2 grade. “Specifically, they asked for more detail on issues that have dogged the project for months: how long contaminated water will have to be treated in future decades and how PolyMet’s ‘financial assurance’ will protect the state against unforeseen financial and environmental costs.”

The EPA’s recent rating is an improvement over the failing grade the agency gave the NorthMet project in October 2009, which sent PolyMet Mining, a Canadian-based corporation, back to the drawing board. Four years later, the SDEIS came out. In my February column, I reported on the public hearing held in St. Paul (other hearings took place in Duluth and Aurora) and noted that the Ojibwe bands up north have expressed concerns with baseline data about water flow from the proposed mine site. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources responded to the tribal concerns, and stated that it is “reviewing new stream flow data for the Partridge River.”

Political Matters: Mining in the Penokee Hills
Monday, March 10 2014
Written by Mordecai Specktor,
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Mining in the Penokee Hills

I’ve devoted several recent “Political Matters” columns to the environmental threat posed by sulfide mining in northeastern Minnesota, the proposed PolyMet mine. This month, I’ll change things up and write about taconite mining. Specifically, Gogebic Taconite, LLC (GTAC) is considering developing what reportedly could become the largest open pit mine in North America.

GTAC’s big dig, just south of the Bad River reservation, would be 4.5 miles long, 1.5 mile wide and 1,000 feet deep. The Wisconsin DNR states that, if developed, “the project would likely include an open pit mining operation, a plant site and waste disposal facilities.”

The GTAC project, as you might imagine, has sparked controversy across northern Wisconsin. I talked recently with Cyrus Hester, an environmental specialist with the Bad River Band of the Lake Superior Tribe of Chippewa.

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