Editorial Roundup: Minnesota

Editorial Roundup: Minnesota

Minneapolis Star Tribune. August 21, 2021.

Editorial: Protect the BWCA and complete study

Public deserves to know when halted analysis of copper mining’s risks to wilderness will be completed.

Raging wildfires and a deepening drought have understandably put new leaders at the U.S. Departments of Agriculture and Interior into crisis management mode.

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But Biden appointees Tom Vilsack and Deb Haaland, the respective secretaries heading these two sprawling agencies, must not lose focus of another vital obligation: protecting northeastern Minnesota’s Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCA) from potential copper mining pollution.

Their agencies share responsibility for the health of this fragile, federally protected wilderness. Roughly half a year after Vilsack’s and Haaland’s confirmations, they have yet to publicly announce a sensible step to ensure that science, not a Chilean mining conglomerate’s political influence, drives decisions about the fate of the beloved BWCA.

That logical action: completing a halted two-year study of copper mining’s risks to the BWCA watershed. The study was begun during the Obama administration and could have led to a 20-year mining moratorium on federal lands near the BWCA, as well as paved the way for Congress to enact permanent protections.

Twin Metals Minnesota aims to open a 20,000-ton-per-day underground mine on a site that isn’t in the BWCA but would be perched on the shore of a nearby lake whose waters flow into the wilderness, providing a pathway for any pollutants. Chilean-based Antofagasta, controlled by the wealthy Luksic family, owns Twin Metals.

Under the Trump administration, the environmental study was halted just a few months before completion. The data gathered was kept secret despite demands by members of Congress and the Star Tribune Editorial Board to make it public.

The Trump administration’s Department of Interior, which was led by a former lobbyist dogged by ethics concerns, also engaged in dubious legal maneuvering to reinstate mineral leases sought by Twin Metals that the Obama administration had rejected.

Additionally, news that Ivanka Trump had rented a mansion owned by a Luksic family member raised questions about the presidential family’s coziness with the Chilean firm. In a 2019 special report, the Editorial Board argued that neither the actions nor the actors involved in the Trump administration’s Twin Metals decision making were trustworthy.

U.S. Sen. Tina Smith, a Minnesota Democrat, has admirably called for the study’s completion. It’s reasonable to expect an answer by now on when that will happen. But Vilsack regrettably sidestepped the issue during a recent Twin Cities visit.

He toured Second Harvest Heartland on Aug. 13. During press availability, he declined to answer an editorial writer’s question about when the decision would be made, but added that it’s a joint effort between his agency and Haaland’s. “We are currently waiting on Department of Interior analysis,″ he said.

In response to an editorial writer’s follow-up inquiry, Interior officials also declined to say when a decision should be expected.

Twin Metals officials provided this statement about the need to complete the study: “The proposed additional mining withdrawal study is unnecessary, undermines the environmental review process already underway and diminishes confidence in the regulatory system and the hardworking state and federal employees seeing that process through.”

“Under the established regulatory process, a mining project in the U.S. takes on average 16 years to be permitted. This accounts for a thorough scientific environmental impact review, permitting processes and exhaustive litigation. The regulatory process for mines in allied nations that share a strong commitment to environmental protection, such as in Australia and Canada, takes much less time. Consequently, those nations are gaining a competitive advantage over the U.S. in the green economy.”

Twin Metals also noted it has invested more than $500 million in the proposed project. Millions more are likely needed. That’s why Twin Metals, in addition to the public, deserves a timely answer from the Biden administration about whether the study will be restarted and completed.

Former President Barack Obama’s administration waited until the very end of his second term to take action to protect the BWCA, whose pristine waters are even more valuable amid drought and climate change.

President Joe Biden should signal his strong intention to preserve it by acting at the beginning of his time in office.

St. Cloud Times. August 20, 2021.

Editorial: School boards stand up for best practices in fight against COVID-19

Nothing about navigating the current cultural and public health climate is easy.

Fear of science is rampant. Ignorance of how science works and learns when faced with new challenges is positively epidemic. Manipulations and misinformation are being launched for purposes wholly unrelated to advancing public health. Predictably, emotions are running high.

Enter into that rancid stew an army of child soldiers in the culture wars: kids headed back to school. Pawns in a political showdown, the leaders of their schools are being asked to take sides: Masks on those kids — or their absence — denote who’s winning this particular skirmish in America’s 21st century uncivil war.

The school board members of Sartell and St. Cloud who have stood up in the face of loud opposition to implement mask mandates as the school year approaches are to be commended for their leadership. It would have been easier to leave the decision as a “recommendation” instead. It would also have been wrong.

As leaders of public institutions run for a vulnerable population — people too young to be vaccinated (yet) against the current pandemic — those school boards have a responsibility to implement reasonable measures to increase safety.

As employers, school boards also have a legally mandated responsibility to provide a workplace that’s as safe as possible for teachers and staff.

As masks are an inexpensive, easy-to-implement method of reducing the spread of germs, it’s unconscionable to not use them to protect students, staff, as well as their families, friends and casual community contacts. The kids and teachers (and the rest of us) aren’t the end-point for infection. They’re vectors as well as potential victims, human highways the virus can use to find even more vulnerable humans.

Contagion doesn’t choose its prey based on beliefs or fears or freedoms. It takes the easy opportunity to infect a host. And every time contagion finds a new chance to infect, it also finds a new chance to mutate, increasing the chance that a variant — like Delta — will defeat our current tools.

That is why individual actions are of public concern, unlike in personal health risk-taking that does not involve bystanders. The concept of group responsibility for protecting the wider public’s health isn’t revolutionary. Far from it: It’s illegal in many states to knowingly spread HIV or STDs. Hand-washing and food-service inspection laws are in place to protect the public from poor “personal choices” when dining out. Smoking in restaurants and driving drunk are illegal because those choices put bystanders at unnecessary risk. So why are masks suddenly the flag on which freedom lives or dies?

Masks in schools will not stop all transmission of the virus among students and staff. But medical experts have said they help. Vaccines have proven to be valuable but not impregnable in the fight against COVID. Social distancing, likewise.

So while science is fighting to find a single silver bullet that works against COVID-19 — if there is one — it has meanwhile told us what tools can help right now. Masks are among those tools, and there is almost no downside to their use. (The fact that children without sight learn language and social skills quite well without seeing faces — and have since time out of mind — puts the main argument against masks in schools in its proper place.)

Using whatever legitimate tools are at hand to hold back the fourth wave of COVID-19 is a patriotic duty. We need to protect our economy. We need to protect our small businesses. We need to protect our quality of life— our state fairs and our concerts and our sports. And we need to protect our kids and our elders. Why would we not?

The tools we have right now — vaccines, masks, good hygiene and health habits, social distancing, reasonable caution about infection risks — are imperfect. But used consistently, correctly, collectively and in combination, we can do better.

Thank you, school board members. Your decision was the correct one.

Mankato Free Press. August 24, 2021.

Editorial: Help students have the tools they need to learn

As another school year is about to begin — with ongoing challenges for students and teachers — helping provide supplies kids need is more important than ever.

Those who can help can do so for both local students and kids around the world.

The Operation Christmas Child collection slated in mid-November at Hilltop United Methodist Church helps distribute school supplies to kids in several countries, including African and Caribbean nations.

And people still have until this Sunday to donate supplies for local students.

Kids already facing struggles don’t want to feel different from other kids at school and ensuring they have the right supplies can give them more confidence, not to mention taking some financial strain off their parents.

The drive for local school kids is sponsored by Old National Bank and United Way.

Colored pencils, markers, glue sticks, whiteboard markers, erasers and other new school supplies may be dropped off at: Circle Inn, 232 Belgrade Ave.; Curiosi-Tea, 1745 Commerce Drive; North Mankato Taylor Library, 1001 Belgrade Ave., all in North Mankato. And Eide Bailly Building, 111 S. Second St.; Mankato Family YMCA, 1401 S. Riverfront Drive; Sadaka’s Deli, 1400 Madison Ave., Suite 626; Snell Motors, 1900 Madison Ave.; Store It, 2015 Bassett Drive, all in Mankato.

The United Methodist collection seeks supplies for kids in three age categories: 2-4, 5-9 and 10-14.

While the church collection is a few months off, it’s a good time for people who are now shopping for back to school supplies to pick up a few more to donate. At the collection event volunteers will pick up gifts dropped off outside of the church.

The Friends of Learning Backpack program in St. Peter are also looking for volunteers to help sort and stuff 700 backpacks for the upcoming school year. There will be multiple shifts from Tuesday to Thursday, at Johnson Hall, Nicollet County Fairgrounds. (Direct questions to Michelle Zehnder Fischer at [email protected])

There are other opportunities for people to help out throughout the year. Many other local organizations host various events to help kids, including getting food to kids in the summers when they’re out of school, providing winter clothing and getting school supplies to students in need.

All kids deserve to have the supplies, clothing and food they need to do well in school. An educated population is the key to future success here at home and across the globe. Good education also prepares kids for civic life, something that’s more important than ever in this divisive time.

If you can help out, look for a way you can improve a student’s life, be it donating supplies or money or volunteering.

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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