- Associated Press - Monday, November 6, 2017

Minneapolis Star Tribune, Oct. 31

Dayton offers reasonable, qualified support for PolyMet mine

Gov. Mark Dayton recently lent his personal, though heavily qualified, support to northeastern Minnesota’s controversial PolyMet Mining project. He has taken a reasonable position on this particular mining proposal despite outcry from environmental opponents.

In an October interview with a Pioneer Press reporter, Dayton was asked about the PolyMet copper mine proposal, along with other issues. His reply: that he supports the project if it can meet environmental and financial assurance standards.

That’s a big “if,” but the governor’s remark is noteworthy because it clarifies his position on a project that has generated an emotional, drawn-out debate statewide - one that pits job growth against stewardship of Minnesota’s treasured water resources.

The PolyMet project may create up to 360 full-time jobs on the state’s economically challenged Iron Range. At the same time, many environmentalists are vociferously opposed to any copper mining in the state because of water-quality concerns. If left untreated, acid runoff from mining operations can harm regional watersheds and native species.

The PolyMet project’s location near Hoyt Lakes is within the St. Louis River watershed, heightening concerns about runoff flowing into Lake Superior. A different mine has been proposed at a site 9 miles southeast of Ely, within the Boundary Waters watershed.

Dayton’s position, which drew criticism from environmental groups, is reassuring as PolyMet’s decadelong evaluation process nears a key milestone. The state is expected to issue a draft of the main permit for public comment before the end of the year. Rather than score political points with one side or the other, the governor is endorsing the science-driven process now underway. That is laudable.

Multiple government agencies have scrutinized PolyMet’s environmental impact and operational plans. If these analyses conclude that the mine can be operated responsibly without harm to the St. Louis River watershed - and if PolyMet can meet financial safeguards to protect the state against unexpected cleanup costs - the project merits Minnesotans’ support.

If the analysis shows otherwise, PolyMet shouldn’t get the required permits. Minnesotans should feel comfortable relying on the data-driven conclusion experts reach. Dayton, through his evolved PolyMet position, is sending a timely signal that this process can be trusted.

It’s important to note that this is the real significance of Dayton’s PolyMet statement. He may be the state’s chief executive, but his support does not mean an automatic green light for the proposed mine. Conversely, Dayton’s personal opposition to the project shouldn’t derail it at this point, either.

That is how it should be. There are high stakes in the debate over allowing PolyMet and other companies like it to operate here. New mines could revitalize northeastern Minnesota’s economy. But the industry also has an abysmal environmental track record worldwide.

Whether these mines can be run responsibly within the state’s water-rich environment is a complex question that must be answered site-by-site and by those with deep expertise. Dayton is to be commended for publicly putting his faith in science and encouraging Minnesotans to do the same.

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Mankato Free Press, Oct. 29

Aggressive plan needed to tackle harmful pollutants

At a time when attention is being paid to the devastating effects pollution has worldwide - killing more people every year than all war and violence, a major study recently revealed - the U.S. may be dialing back its pollution controls.

Just the opposite should be happening.

The United States should take its role as a world leader seriously and be aggressive in tackling pollutants that make people sick. Asbestos and flame retardants are among the pollutants that do substantial harm; but instead of putting into place an earlier plan to look at chemicals in widespread use that result in the most common exposures, the new administration wants to limit the review to products still being manufactured and entering the marketplace, AP reports.

For asbestos, that means gauging the risks from just a few hundred tons of the material imported annually while excluding almost all of the estimated 8.9 million tons of asbestos-containing products that the U.S. Geological Survey said entered the marketplace between 1970 and 2016, according to AP.

That’s an alarming reduction, including to those who actually respond to alarms. Firefighters are put at risk just as much by the hazardous materials unleashed in a fire than the fire itself. A National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health analysis of 30,000 firefighters deaths concluded firefighters contract mesothelioma - caused by inhaling asbestos fibers - at twice the rate of other U.S. residents.

Sickness and death attributed to responders working at 9/11 sites are evidence of pollutant risk on a massive scale. In June the World Trade Center Health Program, the federally funded organization that helps provide medical treatment for people affected by the attacks, counted more than 67,000 responders and 12,000 attack survivors as enrollees, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Construction workers who work around asbestos during demolition or remodeling as well as low-income residents who live in less-than-ideal conditions also are victims of such chemical exposure. Those in the midst of hurricane cleanup operations right now are exposed to numerous pollutants.

The administration’s reason for fighting tighter controls on the hazardous material is transparent. Fewer restrictions and less regulation are equated with being pro-business.

Dialing back efforts to make our environment safer, however, will take an economic toll in multiple ways from public health costs to loss of productivity to future cost of cleanup.

Beyond the financial cost is government accountability. Intentionally exposing the public to known carcinogens is ethically irresponsible.

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Post Bulletin, Nov. 3

Highway roundabouts have proved their value

Not everyone loves roundabouts. In fact, most probably grumble about these new traffic constructs when we come across them. Which way do I go? Which lane am I supposed to be in? Is that car coming at me going to stop? Who invented these confounded obstacles?

But a new study from the Minnesota Department of Transportation shows that roundabouts have reduced the number of accidents and are the way to go.

The study looked at accident statistics for 144 of the state’s 200 roundabouts, the first of which was built in 1995. For starters, there has not yet been a multi-vehicle fatal accident at a roundabout in Minnesota. Comparing before and after data, there’s been an 83-percent reduction in the rate of accidents involving serious injuries. All told, injury accidents have been reduced by 42 percent.

Those are impressive numbers and appear to more than make up for any discomfort people feel about the new arrangements.

In addition to reducing serious injury accidents, roundabouts have lower maintenance costs than a traffic signal intersection.

Despite that, they’re not about to quickly multiply across the state. Derek Leuer, a MnDOT traffic safety engineer, said the decision to replace a traditional intersection with a roundabout is made on a case-by-case basis, and many of those decisions are made by local entities - where, as was the case with the proposed roundabout on Rochester’s 16th Street Southwest, local resistance can cause elected officials to choose traditional designs over roundabouts.

How and why do roundabouts work so well? They’re able to handle more traffic in less time than a traditional intersection. Traffic flow is improved even through everyone has to slow down to navigate the roundabout. That also accounts for the reduction in serious accidents.

All of that makes sense - so much sense, in fact, that any concerns about roundabouts should be left in the rear view mirror.

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