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Excerpts from recent Minnesota editorials

August 26, 2019

Minneapolis Star Tribune, Aug. 23

It’s up to Gov. Walz to end secrecy over Twin Metals mine

State is not powerless as feds keep wraps on study of risks to BWCA.

For months, the Trump administration has blown off requests from influential members of Congress, the Star Tribune Editorial Board and others to make public the science gathered during an aborted study of mining’s risks to a Minnesota treasure — the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

The state, however, is far from a powerless observer in this troubling standoff. Gov. Tim Walz ought to wield the immense leverage he has as the state’s CEO to lift this contemptible veil of secrecy. Walz should order the Department of Natural Resources and the Pollution Control Agency to suspend permitting work involving the proposed Twin Metals Minnesota mine until the feds release the data.

Twin Metals, owned by the Chilean-mining giant Antofagasta, is still years away from becoming a reality. But the laying the groundwork with regulators for a controversial project like this begins long before an official mine plan submission.

It makes sense to halt work now. Twin Metals is the likeliest beneficiary of keeping any damaging science from the aborted study under wraps. Unlike PolyMet, another Minnesota copper mine, the proposed Twin Metals mine is actually within the BWCA watershed, a reality that dramatically amplifies concerns about potential pollution. There are also red flags about Antofagasta’s lobbying clout. One member of the billionaire family that controls the firm owns the Washington, D.C., mansion that Ivanka Trump rents.

Halting work at the state level to require transparency would be a forceful and unusual step. Contacted this week, Twin Metals officials voiced concerns about making the project a “political football” and making judgments about the project before specifics are officially available.

The company can thank U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue for prompting this call for gubernatorial action. Perdue made an appearance at Minnesota’s Farmfest earlier this month. He oversees the Forest Service, and the agency had launched the study of mining risks in the BWCA watershed under the Obama administration and still should wield immense authority over mining projects near the protected wilderness.

In comments at Farmfest, Perdue made clear there are no plans by his agency to release the data. He also shrugged off obligations for ensuring that mining can be done responsibly near the BWCA, instead dumping these responsibilities elsewhere — especially onto Minnesota’s governor. “The buck stops there,” he said.

That’s a shameful abdication of Perdue’s responsibilities, especially when much of the land on which Twin Metals would operate is federally owned. Perdue, who has declined an editorial writer’s ongoing interview requests, is also putting Minnesota regulators in a terrible spot. How can the state do its due diligence when the feds won’t share the latest science with them?

In response to the Editorial Board’s call for action, Walz signaled his anger with Perdue but did not agree to halt work. “It’s outrageous that Secretary Perdue is refusing to accept any responsibility for a mining project in the Superior National Forest. As governor, I have a responsibility to ensure that mining projects in Minnesota don’t move forward unless there is a rigorous environmental review and permitting process.

“This is especially the case for a project that is so close to the Boundary Waters. The manner in which we do our work can either bolster or undermine the trust Minnesotans have in governmental decision-making. Canceling the Forest Service’s environmental review and refusing to release the information gathered during the study undermines public trust in the process. The Forest Service should complete the study.”

Walz’s ire is welcome but if it’s not a game-changer, he must act. His ability to force transparency may be the only avenue left to determine if an administration that is weakening the Endangered Species Act, catering to oil companies and demonstrating other disdain for the environment is sitting on the BWCA data for the benefit of Chilean billionaires.

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The Free Press of Mankato, Aug. 26

ELCA’s action a vote for humanity

Why it matters:

The ELCA, with its large U.S. membership, speaks volumes by stepping up efforts to humanely help migrants.

Despite what some critics are saying, the decision by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America to become a sanctuary denomination does not incite law-breaking.

The action clearly embraces the philosophy of Christianity. Jesus didn’t ask anyone for papers before offering them comfort.

The assembly’s vote made the ELCA the first sanctuary denomination in the U.S. That large-scale decision affects 3.3 million members with Minnesota home to the largest ELCA community in the U.S. at about 670,000 members.

How each congregation wants to offer support is an independent decision. Actions may range from providing living spaces for migrants and supporting them in immigration courts to providing language tutoring, food and household supplies. Importantly, the ELCA assembly also voted to provide resources and staff to help congregations navigate the declaration.

The ELCA doesn’t in any way encourage lawlessness as part of its sanctuary efforts. In fact, it says: “Being a sanctuary denomination does not call for any person, congregation or synod to engage in any illegal activity.” The denomination’s sanctuary description also says: “Being a sanctuary denomination is about loving our neighbors.”

Offering help to those in need is what this action is all about and what Christianity is meant to do. ELCA members, many of whom live here, should be proud of their denomination’s decision to stand up for people who have been under attack and obviously need help. The ELCA is already involved in an initiative to partner with agencies in Central America to address the conditions pushing people to the U.S.

Coming to the aid of refugees is a long-held practice of the ELCA. Lutherans started the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, one of the nine refugee resettlement agencies in the U.S. As a church, ELCA has advocated for stopping the detention of children and families for decades.

The ELCA is acting upon its tradition of helping people as a matter of faith not because it is a current political issue in which drawing lines in the sand has polarized our nation.

What would Jesus do? Based on past action, he would back the ELCA’s action.

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St. Cloud Times, Aug. 25

Let’s help St. Cloud State University not just survive, but thrive

In only her second year as president, Robbyn Wacker is charting a bold path of change for St. Cloud State University as it celebrates 150 years of higher education.

“It’s time to stop doing things the same way we always have and expecting different results,” Wacker concluded in her annual address to faculty and staff to start the 2019-20 school year. “It’s time to push ourselves to think differently to meet today’s learners where they are at and continue to provide them with the world-class education that St. Cloud State has been known for.”

Wacker’s fresh vision is critical, especially at this challenging time for four-year higher education institutions.

Yet this challenge extends beyond the geographic boundaries of the campus. All of Central Minnesota needs to help St. Cloud State meet this challenge.

Why? St. Cloud State — along with St. Cloud Technical & Community College, the College of St. Benedict and St. John’s University —are key drivers of this area’s economy and quality of life.

Just look at the roughly 20,000 students who’ve arrived in metro communities in the past week ready to start classes Monday.

Their presence equates to so much more than just increased traffic and longer restaurant wait times. They are why, in large part, their host communities are blessed with so many arts, athletic and cultural events. They also bolster both volunteer and workforce ranks — not just immediately but when students graduate.

And these institutions’ economic impacts are undeniable.

Research from the Minnesota State system released last year showed St. Cloud’s two public colleges have an economic impact of over $875 million and support over 7,100 combined jobs.

St. Cloud State, even amid declining enrollment and budget challenges, remains a huge force. It generated about $686.5 million in economic impact in 2016-17 school year. The university generated about $38.5 million in state and local revenue and supported and sustained 5,515 jobs, including about 1,400 direct employees.

So when the leader of such a vital part of this community lays out a new vision amid such a challenging time, residents, businesses and all organizations must consider what they can do to help.

Wacker’s address is clear and compelling. Demographic changes, budget cuts, the internet and technology are testing St. Cloud State and similar campuses like never before.

Witness 10 years of enrollment and revenue declines — inducing nine years of cuts to operating budgets — at St. Cloud State.

Seen as a “regional comprehensive university” that evolved when education was a linear path (high school, four years of college, work, retire) St. Cloud State, Wacker stresses, now is “getting squeezed by two-year, research, private and online universities.”

Meanwhile, the importance of lifelong learning only continues to grow as the economy continues its evolution away from one-job-for-life to many-careers-over-a-life.

Her basic plan? Re-imagine the university to steer away from how it’s operated for the past quarter century. Similarly, revisit and revamp operations so the university is better positioned to attract and retain students today and in the future. And as a final part in achieving that, build community through new traditions.

In her speech, Wacker fully admitted her vision “probably seemed pretty big, pretty ambitious, and quite frankly, pretty ambiguous.”

Perhaps. Still, what community members outside campus borders should be asking is how can we help? As this school year kicks off, how can the “town” in this long-running “town-gown” relationship help the “gown” evolve to meet the new challenges of higher education?

Wacker said it herself: “It’s time to push the boundaries and take control of our destiny. And most importantly, it’s time to do this together.”

Who’s in?

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