Economics and Spirit of Place

Economics and Spirit of Place is from The Mining Journal September 19, 2011

To the Journal editor:

This week the Mining Journal reported, as a lead story, Inghan County Judge Paula J. M Manderfield’s denial of a request for an injunction to stop Rio Tinto’s Kennecott Minerals Company from dynamiting Eagle Rock, the entrance to the proposed controversial sulfide mine in Powell Township.

What some readers may appreciate knowing, is that five citizens from our community representing 200 members of the medical profession, 100 faith leaders, and 10,000 citizens of Marquette County joined two members from the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community and two attorneys from the National Wildlife Federations and traveled to Washington D.C. ten days ago to meet with high ranking officials from the Water Division of the United States Environmental Protection Agency. Their purpose was to express an outrage of what is happening to the families who live in the mine’s vicinity and raise objections about the safety and integrity of Kennecott’s operations.

Critical issues with long-lasting implications continue to be raised by those opposed to Rio Tinto’s mining operation. Among them is a recent request from Kennecott to reconsider (reduce) the required Financial Assurance clause for possible environmental damage. If things go bad, the Lake Superior watershed could experience its own catastrophe not unlike Alaska’s Valdez catastrophe. Harper Magazine reported this month that federal authorities ordered Exxon Oil Company, to pay 5 billion dollars for environmental damage from their Alaskan oil spill in 1989. As of yet, Exxon has paid nothing. The Upper Peninsula could easily become a similar waste dump for an international mining company that continues to carry a disputed record regarding irresponsible operational practices.

Another cause for alarm is that no other mining operation of this magnitude in the United States is being carried out with such little Federal oversight, thanks to weakened State regulatory policies. There is mounting evidence of permits not being addressed properly, along with company gift-giving to local institutions in order to discourage criticism.

As for the recent denial for an injunction to stop the destruction of Eagle Rock? If a core of unprocessed gold or silver were discovered under the foundation of Marquette’s beloved St. Peter’s Cathedral, would any of us allow an international mining company to destroy it with dynamite? The State’s initial judgment regarding this issue in 2010 was based on the opinion that there was no building or sacred structure on Eagle Rock. The ruling parties recognized there was no religious significance for the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community. Such a judgment is absurd. Using this logic, the Holy Land’s Mount Sinai or South Dakota’s Bear Butte (protected by State law and sacred to the Lakota people) should also hold no special protection.

Resistance to Kennecott will go on along with a vigilant monitoring of its mining operations. Whatever the final outcomes may be, the underlying issues are about what kind of a world we are choosing to live in. Strong differences of opinion on such matters, of course, always need to be respected. But it’s important to remember that numbers of people also believe Kennecott has not stepped up and fully met requirements as a responsible mining company.

A great sadness is that our grandchildren may look at what has happened and, as E. O. Wilson has said, will know more about critical links between environment and health than any of us can ever imagine. while at the same time despise us for not protecting, in our generation and time, the quality of our air, our forests, and our water.

There’s a better way.


– Jon Magnuson
September 2011

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