Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Mining Lobbyist Appointed to Citizen Oversight Committee

On Monday, Iron Mining Association President and registered lobbyist Craig Pagel from Duluth was appointed as a citizen representative to the Fisheries Oversight Committee by DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr. The Fisheries Oversight Committee is a citizen board charged with overseeing the Fish and Game fund that contains proceeds from license fees and lottery proceeds and making policy recommendations to the Legislature. While this seems like an innocuous appointment to a minor board, it raises several troubling questions.

First, the appointment of an industry lobbyist to a citizen's oversight committee is problematic on principle.

Whether Pagel is an avid outdoorsman, the fact remains that the purpose of this committee is to provide citizen oversight, not representation for industries that might be affected by DNR actions. As the DNR states in an August 2011 overview, "These appointments are for individuals, not formal representatives of particular organizations." The Legislature recognizes that lobbyists shouldn't be considered "citizens" on other citizen oversight boards. For example, the Sunset Advisory Committee prohibits lobbyists from being citizen members, and the Legislative-Citizens Commission on Minnesota Resources requires members to recuse themselves from decisions that might create a conflict of interest.

Second, a conflict of interest is inevitable. The citizen's committee that Pagel's been appointed to has been critical of the mining industry, and this appointment allows him to influence its stance on policies relating to mining.

The previous incarnation of the Fisheries Oversight Committee has taken a strong stance against the PolyMet mine and raised concerns about sulfate pollution and acid mine drainage. In October, the annual report of the oversight committee included the following recommendation from the Trout and Salmon Stamp Subcommittee:
Given the high concentration of trout waters in the area, we remain very concerned about possible effects of AMD [acid mine drainage], increased sulfate levels in water (which in turn may increase methylation of mercury and mercury contamination in fish), toxic heavy metals, and other pollutants on the valuable aquatic resources here. We previously urged the MNDNR to apply the greatest possible oversight and expertise in reviewing the Polymet EIS and project permits. 
Indeed, in 2009, the Trout and Salmon Stamp Committee raised the same concerns, and  recommended that financial assurance regulations should be strengthened to ensure adequate funding for mine cleanup in case of bankruptcy. One of the insights from the hearings on legislation to strengthen the damage deposit regulations on copper mines was how little iron mines are required to set aside for cleanup in case of bankruptcy. This was the lesson Minnesota learned and then quickly forgot when Reserve Mining went bankrupt in 1986 with only $2 million set aside for cleanup costs. Minnesota taxpayers are still on the hook for cleanup.

The Iron Mining Association has a strong interest in reducing the standards for sulfate pollution. In fact, Pagel himself lobbied for changes to the sulfate standards last session. While PolyMet and other sulfide mining projects have an interest in reducing these standards, so do iron mines who've struggled to meet sulfate discharge standards.

It is inappropriate for Pagel to serve on the Fisheries Oversight Committee. There's no way for Pagel to separate his role as a lobbyist for the mining industry and his role as a citizen giving input on DNR policies that affect the mining industry. He should not have been appointed.

Follow me on Twitter @aaronklemz

No comments: