Duty to Warn: Northern Minnesota and the PolyMet Project
Friday, February 05 2016
Written by Gary G. Kohls, MD,
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PolyMet’s Tailings “Pond” could someday create a dead St. Louis River and a dying Lake Superior. Is that an acceptable risk to take?

In the December 23rd edition of the Duluth News-Tribune, a staff writer, using the byline of “News Tribune”, wrote a Local News article with the title “EPA signals its support for final PolyMet review”. The article ended with this (intentionally?) deceptive and woefully insufficient sentence, “Critics say the project is likely to taint downstream waters with acidic runoff”.

I will attempt to correct the notion that “acidic runoff” is the major reason for the widespread opposition to PolyMet’s proposed copper/nickel mining project (which is adjacent to the pristine Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness). PolyMet, it should be mentioned, is a total novice when it comes to operating copper/nickel mines.

On August 4, 2014, a mine at Mount Polley, British Columbia had its huge tailings pond dam (an earthen dam) suddenly burst, massively polluting downstream streams, rivers and lakes, not to mention aquifers which had already been polluted during the years before the catastrophe. The millions of tons of toxic sludge flooded into the migratory Sockeye salmon-bearing Fraser River, the 800 mile-long British Columbian river which empties into the Georgia Strait and the Pacific Ocean at the city of Vancouver.

Typical of most government and industry responses to such catastrophic mining industry failures, the Conservative Harper government of Canada – not to mention the ruling Liberal government of British Columbia – tried to cover up the disaster. Hence, most North Americans on either side of the border (certainly us Minnesotans) were not made aware of the catastrophic event.

Imperial Metals Corporation of Vancouver, the owner of the mine, admitted that they had been dumping the following toxic metals into the slurry (aka “slime”) pond in the years leading up to the failure of the earthen dam. The agency reported that the metallic contaminants that had been dumped in the tailings pond included: Lead, Arsenic, Nickel, Zinc, Cadmium, Vanadium, Antimony, Manganese and Mercury.

Any one of these 9 heavy metal contaminants are highly poisonous and have no safe levels in drinking water or in the serum or tissues of human or animal bodies. These contaminants, commonly found in hard rock mines, are also lethal to plant life, but only when they are ground up into fine powder form in the mineral extraction process.

It is important to recall that polluted aquifers can never be de-toxified by any known process.

If they don’t breach and spill massive amounts of toxic sludge into the environment like at Mount Polley, they leach that contamination slowly, poisoning the waters and lands around them.

The Hazeltine Creek, that enters into Quesnel Lake was the deepest, purest lake in British Columbia and a famous trout and salmon fishery, until August 5, 2014, when 24,000,000 cubic meters of toxic water and sludge breached the Mt Polley tailings dam and virtually exploded downsteam.

Millions of floating dead trees were swept away in the massive sludge flood. The only useful thing that the Imperial Mining Company could do in the immediate aftermath was to try to break up the floating logs so that they wouldn’t destroy downstream bridges as the poisoned water flowed into the Quesnel River (which ultimately empties into the Fraser River and then into the Pacific Ocean at Vancouver, B. C.).

In November 2015, the heavily contaminated sludge from Brazil’s worst environmental disaster at the Samarco iron mine, destroyed mining and non-mining communities that were situated downstream. The massive volume of toxic sludge entered the Rio Doce river in a sudden, thunderous flood (ironically, “doce” means “sweet” in Spanish). The toxic slime polluted and killed everything in its way as it flowed toward the Atlantic Ocean, a distance of 300 miles.

The guilty mining company perpetrators were as helpless in dealing with the aftermath as were the human, animal and aquatic victims. Samarco, incidentally, is co-owned and operated by the mining giants, Vale (Brazilian) and the largest mining company in the world, BHP Billiton (British-Australian).

Northern Minnesotans, Native Americans, sportsmen, environmentalists, wild rice harvesters, and working folks who need non-toxic water to survive must understand that such a catastrophe could destroy the aquifers in the BWCAW, Birch Lake, the Partridge River, the Embarrass River, the St. Louis River, the city of Duluth and ultimately, Lake Superior.

Any human with an ounce of morality would conclude that the risks of allowing PolyMet (or even a veteran company like PolyMet’s major investor, Glencore) to operate an open pit sulfide mine in the pristine areas of northern Minnesota are just too great. States that surround Lake Superior and the other great lakes downstream should have a say in the issue as well. The problem seems to be that amoral multinational corporations can’t be expected to act as one would expect ethical humans to act, especially when profits are involved.

Videos of the Mount Polley tailings pond failure can be viewed at:, and

Dr Kohls is a retired physician from Duluth, MN. He writes a weekly column for the Reader, Duluth’s alternative newsweekly magazine.

Attorney General Swanson does disservice to Minnesota
Tuesday, November 03 2015
Written by Honor the earth,
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On October l6, Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson filed an appeal to the Minnesota Supreme Court in an attempt to overturn a recent MN Court of Appeals ruling, which revoked the Certificate of Need for the Sandpiper pipeline and required the Minnesota Public Utility Commission (PUC) to complete a full Environmental Impact Statement before proceeding with the permitting process. 

Last winter, Friends of the Headwaters and the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy used the only option they had to interrupt a dysfunctional regulatory process:  an appeal to the Minnesota Court of Appeals.  On September 14, in a unanimous 3-0 decision, ruled the Court found that the lack of an EIS constituted a violation of the Minnesota Environmental Protection Act (MEPA). 

The Sandpiper would establish a new energy corridor through the lake and wild rice country of Northern Minnesota, moving up to l.4 million barrels of oil a day across the state, with more pipelines expected to be added in the future. 

The Court of Appeals found that the PUC was making decisions without following state law. The PUC process is also flawed because it:
• Does not take into account the environmental justice impacts of building new pipelines; 
• Does not take into account the implications on treaty rights in the 1855 Treaty Area;
• Relies on a self-serving environmental document prepared by Enbridge and a half-baked review by the Department of Commerce that glosses over the risks of building a new pipeline corridor across our most pristine lakes and wild rice beds and the headwaters of the Mississippi River;
• Does not consider the full impacts of pipeline construction and likely oil spills on wild rice; and 
• Disregards tribal governments and Native peoples by refusing consultation and refusing to hold hearings within tribal communities.

Winona LaDuke, Executive Director of Honor the Earth, said, “The AG’s attack shows that she does not think that the state should prepare an Environmental Impact Statement when it determines the need for a pipeline.  Apparently, her position is that the state should not consider the climate change impacts of importing more of the most carbon intensive oil on the planet, from the Bakken in North Dakota and the Tar Sands of Canada, much less fully consider alternatives to this dirty fuel, such as more fuel-efficient vehicles or renewable energy. In fact, she’s defending an end run schemed up by past anti-environmental administrations. That’s disappointing. Throughout this and prior pipeline hearings, Honor the Earth and other citizen groups have raised many concerns about the fairness of the PUC process and its failure to implement procedural rules in accordance with law. Yet, the state attorneys in the hearing room have remained silent on basic principles of due process and fairness. This indicates that the AG is most concerned about serving powerful oil companies and keeping the permitting as simple as possible – even if that means running over due process rights. That’s not what we elected Swanson to do.”

While both the state’s and Enbridge’s legal and expert costs are passed on to consumers, Minnesota residents had to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to attempt to have their land, water, and future generations protected from what most recognized is a shameful public process. Swanson’s attack is entirely in opposition to tribal governments and tribal communities, which will bear most of the burden of the oil pipeline proposals that pass through our best wild rice territory. That’s disrespectful.  

The State of Wisconsin has required an environmental impact statement prior to the approval of any permits for an l8 mile section of the same Enbridge pipelines, and the US Army Corps of Engineers is also considering whether it should prepare an environmental impact statement to protect tribal rights. Given the impact that oil pipelines have on Minnesota’s and the world’s environment, why would Minnesota’s Attorney General think that a full environmental review is not necessary? Why would Attorney General Lori Swanson, who stands up against predatory lenders and prides herself in protecting the common people, defend what many, both inside and outside government, know is a rogue process? Perhaps that’s because predatory lenders are easy targets, but oil companies are big donors.  The word is that Attorney General Lori Swanson has ambitions for a gubernatorial run. Oil and pipeline money may help her campaign for sure, but principles would help it more.

To learn more about Honor The Earth see:

Governor Dayton’s Sandpiper comments lack common sense foresight
Friday, October 02 2015
Written by Frank Bibeau,
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It is apparent from Governor Dayton’s recent announcement (in reaction to the Minnesota House Speaker’s allegations of appellate court meddling) that he supports the Sandpiper crude oil pipeline and that the Governor does not understand climate change, pipelines or the associated, compounded, environmental risks for Minnesota.

Sandpiper, if approved, will be the first domino in the next, big, toxic chain reaction set of future pollution dominos. What Governor Dayton fails to understand is that when you support Sandpiper, you are in support of fracking Bakken crude in North Dakota and the highly volatile, toxic gases that are being released and/or burned off. The fact is fracking Bakken crude is not profitable currently or in the foreseeable future.

When Governor Dayton supports Sandpiper fracking, then by extension the Governor supports Enbridge’s other PUC pipeline application for Line 3 co-alignment (in the same new, Enbridge preferred, pipeline corridor from Park Rapids, Minnesota to Superior, Wisconsin) which transports Canadian tar sands, the dirtiest crude oil extraction and one of the single, biggest global environmental hazards and climate change contributors, just upwind from Minnesota.

Worse, when Governor Dayton supports Sandpiper Bakken fracking and Line 3 Tar sands, then he is also supporting old Line 3 pipeline abandonment along the U.S. Highway 2 corridor to Lake Superior. A corridor where other aging pipelines need replacement in the foreseeable future. (FYI, I live within a half mile of U.S. Highway 2 and the 8 pipelines in the corridor where Enbridge’s pipeline abandonment is planned.)

Therefore, Governor Dayton really supports a series of future abandoned pipelines (for free?) across northern Minnesota along U.S. Hwy 2, for what sounds like 22 permanent new Enbridge jobs from Sandpiper? Kalamazoo should be the lesson learned not to sacrifice more of Mother Earth’s gifts and treasurers of nature and water to create a new, crude oil pipeline corridor through virgin lakes, rivers and wild rice country. We need to protect the environment for what will become the next, future, old pipelines to be abandoned, which are easily foreseeable environmental hazards for grandchildren and great-grandchildren to cope with 50-60 years from now.

Apparently Governor Dayton cannot see what the rest of us are able to see and understand. For Governor Dayton and other politicians, campaign contributions are at risk, whether from labor unions or big oil. Fortunately, the third branch of government, the Minnesota Court of Appeals, was also able to see an environmental impact statement (EIS) is necessary before the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) makes long term, important decisions about granting eminent domain for a major pipeline project. Unfortunately, the citizen, environmental intervenors had to appeal the state PUC decision to avoid an EIS, to get the review that was argued for at the PUC Sandpiper proceedings nearly a year ago.

Sandpiper pipeline involves extremely hazardous and ultra-risky activity running crude oil pipelines across the ultrasensitive aquifers, lakes and rivers fresh water sources of ecosystems and environments for three of the four North American continental watersheds (N, E and S) all beginning in northern Minnesota. Sure big oil says it can be done with 99.9999% safety, but lest we forget, before Kalamazoo the largest pipeline oil spill in the U.S. was in Grand Rapids, Minnesota right by the Mississippi River, or the Cohasset oil spill and burn-off in 2003 within a mile of the Mississippi and the big, Clearbrook fire in 2007.

We, the people, have a better chance to protect the environment with an EIS being required, but the desire for big money keeps some people trying to rush through the bureaucratic maze to get to today’s cheese with too little concern for everyone’s tomorrow.

Stop the Sandpiper and you stop the lead domino to a lot of pipeline domino insanity, incredible contributors of climate change impacts and save a lot more of the fresh water environment for those to come. Of course, the grandchildren and great-grandchildren will not be born soon enough to vote for Governor Dayton and give campaign contributions to today’s politicians. They must rely on us, citizen environmental groups and the Chippewa to be the protectors of their environment.

As Winona LaDuke often says “”Let’s make a graceful transition from a fossil fuel economy now and work towards the many, long-term, good paying jobs of environmental protection, solar energy and wind for cleaner air and water.”

Instead of pipeline abandonment, the old, badly corrupted Line 3 should be removed first! This is the best opportunity to prevent inevitable environmental risks that will happen over the next couple of centuries when Enbridge no longer exists. Then the same U.S. Hwy 2 corridor, which is already established, can be re-used for the new Line 3 if there is actually a market demand. This way Enbridge, the company that wants to benefit for decades to come, will actually bear some of the environmental clean-up costs to make our environment safer now.

This kind of Line 3 replacement project will probably create 2-3 times as many jobs, all across northern Minnesota for probably a couple extra years, and no new land owners would be impacted within the existing right-of-way corridors, where Enbridge already has leased that parallel U.S. Highway 2. This would eliminate the need for new water crossings and eminent domain across new, untouched aquatic territories and private property.

It makes no good sense to give away our best gifts and treasures from Mother Earth (the nature and water) to only make certain, future, environmental destruction which will require even higher clean-up costs. It’s all foreseeable.

Love Water, Not Oil!

Frank Bibeau is a member of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe, Pillager Band. He is an attorney for Honor the Earth at the Minnesota PUC for the Sandpiper pipeline proceedings.

From the Editor's Desk: Sovereignty and responsibility
Friday, August 28 2015
Written by Alfred Walking Bull, The Circle Managing Editor,
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awb-office-web.jpgIn this issue, we've explored the acts of Ojibwe citizens who are exercising their treaty rights by harvesting wild rice in off-reservation territory as well as the impacts of other tribes asserting their authority in economic, land and environmental concerns.

One of the more outstanding speeches on the Rosebud Sioux Tribal Council floor while I served as the managing editor of The Sicangu Eyapaha, was given by Rep. Russell Eagle Bear (Black Pipe Community). When a tribal citizens spoke on what the council should do to exercise sovereignty in his name, Eagle Bear countered with, “Take out your wallet, look at your ID, is that a South Dakota ID? When you receive a Social Security check, do you cash it? Yes? Then you are not sovereign.”

It was one of the more bold statements made about the state of tribal and individual sovereignty in America. In two questions, Eagle Bear had reminded us all that we are dependent on a foreign government that dictates our own powers to us in our own territory and either we must accept what is given to us or we must make sacrifices and do what's best to ensure our collective future.

In that spirit of sovereignty, we take a moment to consider this newspaper. This newspaper has been the paper of record for the Twin Cities and regional Native communities for over 35 years. It is an independent body, free from tribal government and private influences. In Western parlance, we consider a newspaper and the journalists it employs members of the Fourth Estate.

GUEST COLUMN: Trahant Reports
Monday, August 03 2015
Written by Mark Trahant,
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mark trahant.jpgPresidential Debate season begins on Aug. 6

What do you do with sixteen candi­dates? It’s a thorny problem for Republi­cans. Why’s that? Because right now one of those candidates, Donald Trump, is loud enough to drown out all the other “major” candidates.

Wouldn’t it be fun if the nomina­tion contest was more like a basketball tournament? Then top-seeded Donald Trump would battle 16th seed Ohio Gov. John Kasich a battle of ideas. Or how about dropping the bunch in the jungle Naked and Afraid. We could even start voting and eliminate a candidate every week, until it’s just the Republican versus a Democrat.

Enough. Back to the chaos. And Don­ald Trump.

As The Washington Post put it on July 26: “For yet another week, Trump talk dominated the Sunday morning political shows, with several devoting roundtable discussions to his disruption of the GOP presidential primary and at least two of his GOP rivals using their clashes with him in recent days as a means of secur­ing interviews on the shows — during which they continued to clash with him.”

On Aug. 6 in Cleveland the first debate is set, an opportunity to raise serious issues. As if. It’s more likely that it will be Trump versus the other nine candidates tossing one liners back and forth.

Of course American Indian and Alaska Native issues don’t get attention this early anyway. Usually that hap­pens late in the campaigns, during the general election, when a position paper is released that outlines the candidate’s official policy. That’s too bad. It would be good to press candidates from both parties about how they see treaties, the federal-Indian relationship, and the management of federal programs that serve Native Americans.

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