Political Matters – November 2022

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By Mordecai Specktor

Talon Metals prepares to dig
On Oct. 27, the United Nations issued a report on the climate crisis and the news wasn’t good.  “Despite a high-profile promise to boost ambitions at last year’s U.N. climate summit, nations have shaved just 1 percent off their projected greenhouse gas emissions for 2030 … leaving Earth on track to blow past a safe temperature threshold by almost a full degree,” according to a Washington Post story on the UN report.

“Global and national climate commitments are falling pitifully short,” U.N. Secretary General António Guterres said in a video message, WaPo reported. “We must close the emissions gap before climate catastrophe closes in on us all.”

Of course, the alternative to burning fossil fuels and hastening climate catastrophe is to shift to renewable energy sources. The recently passed Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) was hailed by many environmentalists for funding the development of alternative sources of energy. However, the “clean tech” sector requires mining for minerals that can wreck the natural environment.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) online “Climate Portal” featured a story in July titled “Will mining the resources needed for clean energy cause problems for the environment?” Iris Crawford wrote: “Clean energy technologies, from wind and solar to hybrid and electric vehicles, help us slow down climate change, but they’re not inherently perfect. Currently, they rely on critical minerals that are environmentally costly to mine.

You’ve probably heard of some: lithium, copper, graphite, zinc, cobalt, copper, and nickel all make the list, alongside rare earth elements derived from mineral compounds.

“And these decarbonization technologies require more of these resources than their fossil fuel-based equivalents. Electric cars, for example, need six times the amount of these minerals compared to gas-powered vehicles, and onshore wind plants need nine-fold more than gas-fired plants.”

In Minnesota, copper-nickel mining schemes have pitted environmentalists and the state’s Ojibwe bands against corporations, labor unions and politicians advocating for mineral extraction projects in the Arrowhead region. A newcomer to the controversy here is a proposal by Talon Metals to dig for nickel in Aitkin and Carlton counties. Talon has partnered with the global mining giant Rio Tinto. “Talon expects to file for related state permits early next year,” according to Star Tribune business writer Neal St. Anthony.

Apparently, Talon’s proposed nickel project will benefit from provisions in the previously mentioned IRA that will allow them to write off 10 percent of the costs involved in mining for “critical minerals” deemed essential for national security.

“Todd Malan, Talon’s chief external affairs officer and head of climate strategy, said the new law and the bipartisan-passed infrastructure law support ‘domestic supply chain for battery minerals’ and that ‘the United States is blessed with significant sources of battery minerals like nickel, cobalt, lithium, manganese and iron and [will] provide significant support for domestic battery production from mine through recycling,’” St. Anthony reported in August.

As in the case of sulfide mining projects in northeastern Minnesota, Indian tribes are wary of the Talon Metals project.

“The nearby Sandy Lake Band of Mississippi Chippewa opposes the mine,” St. Anthony noted.

“That land is all swamp,” Jean Skinaway-Lawrence, the band’s chair told the Star Tribune. She is afraid that pollution from mining waste will despoil Sandy Lake and other bodies of water. “We have treaties and covenants to protect our land and waters. This is our heritage. I’m going to have to put my body on the line.”

The “Green New Deal” is a pillar of progressive politics in the U.S.; but Native communities are skeptical about how some of the details will affect their lives. In Nevada, there’s been a long-running conflict between Native communities and Lithium Nevada, a subsidiary of Canadian-based Lithium Americas, over a proposed lithium mine in the remote Thacker Pass area, which borders the Fort McDermitt Reservation.

A National Public Radio story reported last year that “native people, especially elders” are concerned that the mine “would be built atop sacred land.” Indians set up a protest camp was set up in Thacker Pass.

“They have people that are buried out there, so therefore that place to us is a very sacred place,” Myron Smart, a Fort McDermitt Paiute-Shoshone tribal member, told NPR.
“Smart says the land is strewn with cultural artifacts, traditional foods and medicinal plants, some of which are a lifeline to elders,” NPR reported.

“During the pandemic, when it first started, that’s what our people used to get by,” Smart commented.

You can expect that, like the lithium project in Nevada, Talon Metals’ nickel extraction project will face popular resistance in the months and years to come. We need to get away from planet-killing fossil fuels; but Native communities should not be sacrificed in the process.