Congressman Chip Cravaack has Minnesota waters in his campaign crosshairs

Carla Arneson

Not long ago US Congressman Chip Cravaack objected to a misleading television campaign ad, but frequently Cravaack’s own website has reached new lows in disingenuous rhetoric. I guess it is acceptable if he initiates the skewed information.

A lie of omission is still a lie, no matter how much Cravaack rants about the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), no matter how much he ignores the fact that Minnesota’s agencies do not hold the mining industry accountable. The EPA is not at fault if it has to do their job.

On his website Cravaack said, “In the middle of the worst unemployment crisis since the Great Depression, the EPA’s sheer and utter disregard for our industry, its workers, and their families shows how out of touch with reality Washington bureaucrats really are. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency has already demonstrated effective regulation of our environmental laws, and these regulators know what is best for our state. Under the Obama Administration, the EPA has Minnesota jobs in its crosshairs.”

In his hunt for points in his re-election bid for Minnesota’s 8th District, Cravaack is making the air we breathe and the water we depend on less important than mining jobs. He is the “Washington bureaucrat out of touch with reality.”

One of Cravaack’s recent campaign mailings quoted Ely Mayor Roger Skraba: “They care more about the environment than jobs and people.” “They,” referring to the Democratic Party in northeastern Minnesota.

Just what does Mayor Skraba think the environment is, devoid of people? If our water is fouled, our health is fouled. If our air is contaminated, our water and land are contaminated. Our health is impacted. If the young of other species are damaged, our babies will also eventually be damaged.

There is a powerful difference between supporting an industry that meets standards and an industry that does not, literally harming our children and us in the process.

Cravaack’s campaign camouflage

Cravaack evidently finds it acceptable that the populations of northeastern Minnesota and states to the east are impacted by unlawful taconite plant discharges and emissions, as well as by emissions from the coal-fired electrical plants that power them; unconcerned about the victims of these corporations. He is evidently comfortable with our newborns having toxic levels of mercury in their blood. The taconite industry discharges sulfates that trigger methylmercury production, contaminating the fish consumed by pregnant mothers.

Cravaack must believe that Minnesotans are too stupid to know that the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency [MPCA] has not, as he said, “already demonstrated effective regulation of our environmental laws.” It is not true, as Cravaack claims, that “these regulators know what is best for our state,” unless he believes that the mining industry has more rights than the rest of us.

In 2010, the MPCA let Cliffs Erie off the hook for millions of dollars of possible fines at the LTV/PolyMet and Dunka mine sites with a $58,000 consent decree.  

The MPCA had not enforced the sulfate standard, had not held the taconite industry accountable for decades. Then last year the MPCA required Keetac to comply to the sulfate standard “as soon as possible,” but no later than August 17, 2019.

In October of 2012, the MPCA gave a variance – the legal way to break the law – to Mesabi Nugget so it could continue to ignore the water quality standards of Minnesota, indefinitely. Water treatment was not considered feasible, meaning it cost too much. Feasibility is the other code word for a free pass to pollute.

There is plenty of blame to go around

Who is more at fault? Is it the agency that inadequately fines and does not require industry compliance, that allows industry “investigation” for years without remedy, that writes “amendments” and gives “variances” that allow industry to continue to pollute? Or the agency that allows industry to continue operations under expired permits?

Or is it the industry that says it cannot afford to stop contaminating our air and water because it is not “economically feasible,” while it simultaneously claims sulfide mining would be so lucrative that Minnesotans must further risk our waters and our health on unproven promises?

Or is it the corporations contributing big campaign donations with expectations of a political return on their dollars? Or is it a legislator like Cravaack who omits, ignores, and twists the truth for his own agenda? Who ridicules and denies adequate funds to the agencies that are supposed to protect us?  

Or is it the public that buys the lies? The people willing to accept mesothelioma, and babies with toxic blood mercury levels, or the water wells with toxic levels of manganese doing who knows what to the children drinking from them? People willing to accept that northeastern Minnesota has the highest overall mortality rate in rural Minnesota, the highest cancer mortality rate, the highest asthma hospitalization and emergency department visit rates, the highest heart disease mortality rate, and the highest Alzheimer’s mortality rate for age 65 and over? (Rural Health and Primary Care, Minnesota Department of Health) People who accept it all, without question, in defense of an industry that essentially owns them?

The truth can be found in what is not being said

Cravaack also said, “Importantly, the EPA’s new regulations [industrial emissions] far exceed what the MPCA approved for the six operating Minnesota taconite mines in April.”

Actually, and more importantly, according to the Duluth News Tribune, The PCA rules approved in April were looser than the state agency's staff originally proposed. They were eased after Cliffs Natural Resources officials said the Hibbing Taconite and United Taconite plants would have trouble complying with proposed nitrogen oxide limits. Critics have said that any tougher haze rules could hurt the state's taconite industry, even forcing some lower-margin operations to close.”

Another example of the industry playing the jobs card, blackmailing the state, and ignoring the price the people who live here will pay with their health.

Minnesota’s regulations need to be upheld. The Cliffs Erie $58,000 consent decree alone involved 309 violations, many of which would have been multiplied by 30 for each month. Just one of those 309 violations multiplied by 30 would have been $37,500 per day for 30 days or a maximum penalty of $1,125,000. That could have paid for a lot of cleanup. Instead the corporation and the agency kicked the can down the road, essentially leaving it for the rest of us to deal with someday.

And now PolyMet’s idea of cleanup is to cover up the Cliffs Erie contamination with toxic sulfide mining waste. A great deal for the corporations, but not for the health of the people.

So nothing much changes, largely because political appointees run our agencies; and there is a revolving door from agency to industry. And those within the agency ranks, who speak out, trying to do their jobs, can find themselves sent to the agency equivalent of Siberia.  

Equal rights do not mean more rights for corporations

Corporations claim to have the same rights as an individual, yet none of us would get away with saying we do not have to obey the law because we cannot afford to follow it. Meeting air and water regulations needs to be a given, not based on whether or not an industry can afford to operate without polluting our air or our water. Why do corporations have the right to victimize us? And why do we accept it?

How many millions of dollars did the mining industry’s lack of adherence to state standards, accompanied by agency lack of enforcement, cost us? Why are we basically being told to choose between a job and our health, or the health of our children?

On his website Cravaack also said, "Until we get Minnesota mining out from under the thumb of Washington bureaucrats, we will continue to see a slow death of our mining operations." Apparently Cravaack is not concerned about the slow death of the rest of us.