- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Star Tribune, Minneapolis, June 20

DNR sends ‘totally wrong signal’ on access to secret copper mining study

Agency didn’t leverage authority to free up scientific data kept secret by federal officials.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has fumbled away an opportunity to free up the sweeping study kept secret by the Trump administration of copper mining’s risks to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness watershed.

The misstep undermines the strong message from state officials last November that they “expect to have access” to the research kept under wraps now for almost two years.

At issue is a June 9 decision by the DNR to authorize temporary access to 680 acres of state land to Twin Metals Minnesota. Owned by Chilean mining giant Antofagasta, it is one of several companies aiming to eventually mine the rich deposits of copper, nickel and other precious metals in northeast Minnesota.

Unlike PolyMet, another well-known copper mining project in the region, Twin Metals’ operations would lie within the BWCA watershed.

Twin Metals’ underground mine and accompanying aboveground operations would not be within the federally protected preserve. But its site is within a few miles of it and borders a reservoir that flows north into the watery wilderness’s fragile ecosystem.

That location, and the different risks copper mining poses vs. iron mining, is why the Star Tribune Editorial Board opposed the Twin Metals project in November’s “Not this mine. Not this location” special report.

To be clear, the DNR land-access decision doesn’t approve the project. It just allows Twin Metals to conduct environmental evaluation of state land near the mine site. The company is eyeing the parcel as a site for tailings storage. Granting access for exploration and surveys is a very small step in what will be a yearslong permitting process.

The decision is nevertheless problematic. Federal officials have blown off congressional requests, not to mention Freedom of Information Act requests from the Editorial Board and others, to see data gathered during an almost-completed, two-year U.S. Forest Service study of copper mining’s risks to the BWCA. Nor has the state had access, which is stunning given its substantial role in permitting.

The best hope to release the data at this point is the state wielding its leverage. The Editorial Board has repeatedly urged the state to halt its work on Twin Metals until the feds free the scientific analysis. The land access recently granted is an example of activity the state could have suspended.

The DNR defended the decision in a statement this week. The action was taken “solely to facilitate the collection of site-specific environmental data needed to evaluate Twin Metals’ proposed project. These site-specific data are needed regardless of whether the federal government provides the data they previously generated to assess far more general questions about nonferrous mining throughout the Rainy River Basin.” In addition, the agency noted, the “agreement expressly states that no decisions have been made about the future use of state lands.”

Asked for a statement, Twin Metals referred an editorial writer to its website, which includes its mine plan of operations.

The DNR’s explanation is unsatisfactory and undercuts its own previous good work. Last fall, in an announcement coinciding with the editorial special report, the agency admirably announced that it would conduct a state-level environmental impact statement. As part of that, the agency made it clear it expected access to all prepared federal data.

The data, however, still hasn’t been shared with the state. That’s unlikely to change. Industry-friendly officials lead key federal environmental agencies, and the Trump administration has made regulatory rollbacks a priority. A different state agency, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, has warned that federal changes to water-quality protections would “kneecap” state regulators’ authority to protect waterways.

Greenlighting even a small step forward for Twin Metals sends the “totally wrong signal on this project when the state has the ability and authority to say, wait a minute, we can’t move forward until we get this fundamental information” from the feds, said Tom Landwehr. He is a former DNR commissioner who now leads the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters, which opposes the Twin Metals project.

Granting the access was a mistake. There will likely be more such requests. The DNR should say no until the feds free the science currently held captive.


St. Cloud Times, June 19

It’s time for St. Cloud to do more than just talk about its problems

In the tornado that’s become the year 2020, this past week St. Cloud saw its vortex go from about an F-1 to nearly an F-5 - in just hours.

First, a St. Cloud police officer was shot in the hand making an arrest late Sunday night. Amid the George Floyd tragedy, deadly force was fortunately not applied to the suspect, who is Black. From there, though, social media spread false rumors that fueled impromptu demonstrations and vandalism overnight Sunday and again overnight Monday along Ninth Avenue South.

On those consecutive nights, looting, gun shots and violence - mostly against law enforcement - kept the city in turmoil, effectively drowning out local voices echoing nationwide calls for systemic changes, more equality and less fear.

Fortunately, cooler heads and community leadership emerged Tuesday night at Ninth Avenue South and University Drive, helping those voices for change be heard and calming the swirling mass of anger, violence and frenetic humanity.

Now that the broader community is hearing those voices, the question is simple: Will the St. Cloud metro area take the next step? Will this community turn important discussions into much-needed actions?

To be clear, there is no excuse for the violence and vandalism that emerged earlier this week. That it was largely sparked by false rumors that cast local police in the worst possible light is even more unacceptable.

Still, rather than analyze (ahem, judge?) what happened this past week, this community - from rank-and-file residents to elected leaders - should focus on building the conversations that are emerging into viable action plans that change the community for the better for all its residents.

What should those plans include? To be honest, that is a really good question.

There have long been community-wide demands to address systemic racism and, more recently, bigotry against immigrants and refugees. But specific ideas and detailed plans that actually change systems, institutions and attitudes are not easily identified.

That’s why now is the time for people to put specific ideas up for community discussion. Take the situation beyond just talking about people of color feeling fearful and experiencing discrimination to forming specific plans that reduce fears, changing systems and end bigotry.

One effort that could serve as a model is St. Cloud’s community policing agreement, which was recently updated through the work of the city, police department and several community leaders.

While it’s not perfect, it does already address in detail many hot topics facing police in the wake of George Floyd’s death while in custody of Minneapolis police.

Could a similar model be formed to bridge gaps experienced in other aspects of this community? Think issues like economics, business development, youth outreach, education, community involvement, etc.

Again, this board does not pretend to know the exact solutions. It’s clear, though, the St. Cloud community has an opportunity to move beyond just talk. Answers in the form of actions must come from a collective community discussion that culminates with specific, achievable steps implemented at all levels in the community.


The Free Press of Mankato, June 21

DACA: Congress should support dreamers

Why it matters: Now that the U.S. Supreme Court has struck down Trump’s attempt to end the DACA program, Congress should pass immigration reform.

The U.S. Supreme Court blocked the Trump administration’s first swing to knock young immigrants off their dreams by ending the DACA program. The president vows round two.

Congress should put an end to this bullying.

The court determined the administration’s method for ending the DACA program did not meet legal muster, but left the door open for the administration to try again.

Chief Justice John Roberts sided with the liberal wing of the court. including Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan, Sonia Sotomayor and Stephen Breyer. In the 5-4 ruling. Roberts argued the Trump administration had not met legal requirements for ending the program and offered no recourse to the hundreds of thousands of lives it would impact should DACA be ended and the so called dreamers be deported.

Roberts noted all believe the Department of Homeland Security has the right to end the program but must follow the rules in doing so. Trump vowed to do so tweeting the ruling was a “shotgun blast to the face” for Republicans and conservatives.

Congress can put an end to Trump’s attempt to deport those covered under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden has vowed to make DACA program permanent with legislation.

Many of those covered under DACA have enrolled in college, have jobs and families and Roberts noted many other Americans including employers and schools would be harmed should the DACA so called “dreamers” be deported.

While Trump has at times approved of the young people covered under DACA, he changed his mind as hard-liners in his party pressured him to end the DACA program. Trump has made an anti-immigration platform part of his re-election campaign.

Business groups and others favor DACA and creating a pathway to citizenship for those young people, many of whom wouldn’t know the language or have family in their home countries.

The DACA kids are safe for the time being, but Congress should act to create immigration reform before the Trump administration tries again to end the DACA program.

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