It’s difficult for me to read the grim news of the chemical spill in West Virginia without thinking immediately of my friends in Minnesota. “A 23 year gap in oversight” is now listed among the chief causes of the spill of 4-methylcyclohexane methanol into the Elk River. How, in the wake of this disaster, or in light of any of the other industrial spills and explosions and disasters that seem to be in the news nearly every week, can anyone in Minnesota still seriously entertain the idea that Polymet Mining will maintain water treatment facilities for up to 500 years at its open-pit sulfide mine near Hoyt Lakes?
Answer: We can’t.
Not honestly, anyway, as was pointed out at a recent hearing on the subject. When even the conservative Duluth News Tribune allows an opponent of the PolyMet mine prime editorial-page space to speak his piece, it’s quite telling.
Another toxic wrinkle of the West Virginia disaster is that the chemical poisoning the Elk River is used by the coal industry to further the myth of “clean coal”, as Jim White points out.
Which reminds me: “clean coal” looks like a con in more ways than one. Bluestem Prairie’s Sally Jo Sorensen tells the story of Bixby Energy, a firm that collapsed in 2011 and whose its founder, Select Comfort bed magnate Robert Walker, is now standing trial on fraud charges: “Prosecutors say that Bixby Energy was simply a way to raise money. They claim the technology behind Bixby’s coal-to-natural gas and oil process never worked, despite Walker’s claims.” (It should surprise nobody who’s been paying attention to Minnesota politics over the past twenty years that three of the more prominent suckers for the Bixby Energy scam were Minnesota Republican state legislators Mike Beard, Kathy Lohmer and the ever-popular Mary Kiffmeyer. Kiffmeyer, who was Minnesota’s Secretary of State under Tim Pawlenty, is no stranger to bad investments; she owned the holding company that owned and controlled Riverview Community Bank.)
Photo by Carol Stoker, NASA