When do mining companies have it and when is it at risk? One might be callous and say that permits to mine and pollute constitute
this license. After all, the state and federal governments issue the permits and represent the citizens. However, the virtues of the
process are compromised by inherent risk, competition and financial greed. Most virtues are now measured in financial terms.
Elaborate programs are set up to quell opposition that might frighten potential investors, increase regulation and delay permitting.
Corporations define the “Community” that will eventually grant them not only the legal permits but also the “social license the mine”.
This community generally consists of potential employees, local businesses, local officials and politicians, the media and generally
affected citizenry. Upper level politicians, bureaucrats, management and financiers are prime targets and top off the “middle” of their
“community” population distribution curve.
Those citizens and organizations that comprise the “tails” of the curve are either strongly for or against a given mining proposal.
Corporations spend a great deal of time and expense in attempts to neutralize those against and to restrain those overly exuberant.
These efforts are critical in obtaining a social license to mine anywhere in the world. A national government alone cannot
successfully grant this license on a long-term basis unless the “Community” has been well-defined and convinced. In places like
New Guinea a poorly designed social licensing process has ended in bloody conflict.
Well-defined Intentions Give Way to Classic Practices
Global mining companies have become very sophisticated in dealing with “communities” surrounding Lake Superior where every
potential mineral deposit somehow becomes ranked as one of the so-called “largest in the world”. The general steps in the public
relations process should be straightforward: recognize and respect those affected; create sustainable economic growth; operate
below key environmental standards; be transparent in your dealings; do what you say and cleanup when you go.
Other prescriptions are more direct and revealing. They say that influencing public opinion and gaining political support are as or
more important than having a mining plan that is based upon the best engineering and technical knowhow. The regulatory process
must be “smoothed out”. The public must be “informed”. “Community” becomes “Voting Majority” and unpredictable regulators are
replaced. Experienced, cooperative regulators often become advocates for or employees of the corporations seeking permits. The
deciders are well-groomed.
Same Old Tactics Being Applied in Northeastern Minnesota
These social engineering principles are now being applied in the Duluth Complex of sulfide minerals in northeastern Minnesota.
The “Community” required to obtain permits to mine and pollute has been well-defined and activated. Methods of mitigating
pollution from acid leaching similar to those used at Eagle Mine in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula are being lined up at projects such
as PolyMet and Twin Metals. These methods are used to procure short term achievement of environmental standards as
substitutes for long term pollution prevention, just enough to “legally” obtain permits to mine and pollute. This process is on-going
and well reported in a media that uses corporate propaganda as a primary source for news on mining.
Forceful Tactics Place Mining Projects at Risk
In this environment the social license to mine is immediately at risk. They would be violating key environmental standards, being far
from transparent in their dealings with the public, unable to do what they say and far from being willing or able to clean up when they
go. Long term success is at risk since costs to the community will eventually exceed the benefits from the mine. The battle then
becomes one of perseverance, mitigation and politics.
The Eagle Mine Project in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is a good example of how a “social license to mine” was advanced in that
community. The process violated the principle of good community relations on the local level. The mining company now has the
permits to mine and pollute. The Yellow Dog River, home to coaster brook trout and a tributary to Lake Superior, is now its drainage
ditch. The path to these permits is strewn with strife, political manipulation and financial promises. The mine is in production, and
is being used as a model for similar mining proposals in northeastern Minnesota. The project is based on the “green field, brown
field” concept in which mining is done in a previously undisturbed natural habitat and the processing done at an existing
Corporate Methods of Operation Belie Early Promises to “Community”
The practice adopted by the United Nations for obtaining community agreement and consent for mining projects is called “Free
Prior Informed Consent”. These practices have been adopted by most global mining corporations. The plans are supposed to be
broad based and sustainable but invariably fall victim to financial pressures. The initial engagement of the “Community” is then
designed to implement a strategy where the community cannot afford to have the company fail. The project messaging is heavily
controlled until the project is permitted and financed. Agencies find it very difficult not to issue permits to mine and pollute. Social
benefits far outweigh environmental costs for many years until problems with public health, labor conflicts, safety, economic cycles,
new technology and many other issues begin to take their tolls. The façade of sustainability is broken. Social license to mine then
depends upon production short cuts, permit violations and variances, cost controls in the supply chain, environmental risks and
corporate profits. Social license has morphed into an addiction. The community is left to deal with the various forms of “waste”.
Prove It First!! We need a Moratorium on Sulfide (Copper-Nickel) Mining
Most global corporations develop what are called “Closure Standards” for mining projects. The accuracy of closure costs is
presented as a function of time remaining to mine closure. From 20 to 40 years the accuracy requirement decreases from about
25% to 50%. Any time length greater requires only a conceptual closure plan without a cost estimate. Pollution from the reactive
waste from sulfide (copper-nickel) mines lasts for centuries. Current thinking is that dumping mining and production waste into
lakes, pits and wetlands will reduce toxic discharges until the responsible parties have long gone and without having provided for
financial assurance for the cleanup of perpetual toxic pollution. Doesn’t this bring nuclear waste storage to mind? We need a
moratorium on sulfide mining in Minnesota until corporate mining companies can “Prove it First” that this type of mining can and
has been done safely somewhere, anywhere, in a water-rich environment such as exists in the Lake Superior watershed. The
elected representatives from northeastern Minnesota have prevented such legislation from even being discussed at the Capitol.
Most urban legislators and citizens in general don’t recognize pollution in the far north as a threat to themselves. The “Social
License to Mine” is viewed subjectively with science applied selectively.
EPILOGUE ON ETHICS AND THE SOCIAL LICENSE TO MINE AND POLLUTE
There is a lack of correlation between ethical behavior and the processes being used to develop a social license to mine and
pollute in Minnesota and worldwide. A spokesman for the iron mining industry recently implied that it is unethical for those on the
“other side” to question the “safety” of the processes either being used or proposed in permitting for the iron and copper mining
industries. He said that “people” need to understand and appreciate mining. His recommendation to mining associates was to not
discuss the pollution associated with mining operations.
This presentation followed a lengthy dissertation on ethics and leadership in the mining industry which concluded that no personal
attacks should be used when evaluating specific cases. We must “compromised and continue to grow”!
The messages issued during these presentations were contradictory and confusing especially when topped off with the statement
that “values” are most important in a leadership role that would ostensibly be part of the process in the organizations’ obtaining a
“social license” to mine and pollute in pristine “greenfields “ of Northeastern Minnesota. Other admonitions included extractions
from various philosophies such as altruism, utilitarianism, justice, love and compromise.
In a final set of recommendations, corporate representatives were instructed on methods of “overwhelming” the “other side” with
“our story”. This either demonstrated total confusion during the presentation or an overreaction to the effectiveness of the “story
being told by the other side”. The process of overwhelming the other side does not exhibit any of the characteristics previously
recommended as part of the process of “compromise” and “dong what is right”. So ethics are really not a primary guiding principle
in gaining a social license to mine and pollute. The whole “other side’ argument and instructions are counterproductive from both
ethical and social license bases. Science continues to be used very selectively and unethically. Propaganda from these same
corporations and their spokesmen drowns out any legitimate arguments concerning the true science of the effects of their pollution
on the environment and public health.
LeRoger Lind, SLSA, 4/22/2017
|“Social License To Mine” Has Been Redefined
|Save Lake Superior Association