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PRM presentation at 2014 AAAS meeting

On February 15, Public Record Media will present a talk on overcoming challenges to public records access at the 2014 meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. 

PRM executive director Matt Ehling will speak on a panel entitled “Data Availability:  Making Sure the Gift Keeps Giving.”  Other presenters include David Reitze of the California Institute of Technology, and Catherine Grosso of Michigan State University.

Find the full presentation here.  The abstract is below:

Access to Government Data:  Examining and Overcoming Barriers

In 1966, Congress passed the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), which provided the public with unprecedented access to stores of government data.  Many states later followed suit, and enacted their own statutory schemes to permit broad-based data accessibility.  The open-government architecture that resulted has become a fundamental tool of the press, policy makers, academics, and the public.  It has enabled reportage, scientific analysis, historical research, government oversight, and policy formulation. 

Despite the existence of sophisticated public information mechanisms, ready access to government data remains elusive in certain circumstances, and several trends are exerting pressure on the nation’s open-government infrastructure.  Such trends include the increased use of security claims as a basis for withholding previously public data, increasing agency non-compliance with statutory mandates, recalcitrance on the part of private contractors who hold government data subject to disclosure under public records laws, and a reduction in funding for open government compliance.

An examination of contemporary case studies demonstrates the impact of these trends on government data architectures. An analysis of specific responses to the trends at work in the case studies – ranging from statutory adjustments to court rulings – provides insights into how the nation’s open government architecture may be buttressed or reinvigorated to face current challenges.  Specific tools for acquiring government data in the face of agency non-compliance are identified and discussed within the context of current trends.

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PolyMet/NorthMet public comment hearing held in Duluth

An estimated 1300-1500 people were in attendance in Duluth on January 16 for the first of three state public hearings on the PolyMet company’s proposed NorthMet mine near Hoyt Lakes, Minnesota.

Representatives from the Minnesota DNR, the US Forest Service, and the US Army Corps of Engineers were in attendance. The audience also included current and former elected officials, union members, nonprofit groups, and interested citizens generally. Speakers were selected at random and allowed a three-minute period in which to make comments.
 
Public comments on SDEIS
The formal purpose of the hearing was to record into the permanent public record citizen comments on the NorthMet Supplemental Draft EIS. An EIS must be found to be adequate before a project can be considered for permitting.

Proponent comments
While proponents and opponents of the project alike expressed a general desire for both clean water and jobs, project supporters indicated a faith in the regulatory agencies and contemporary industrial technologies. “I’m pleased to stand in solid support of Polymet and the people who have worked so hard and spent $50 million or more trying to satisfy the demands required of a project like this,” said William Whiteside of Hibbing. “I’m very confident that the water quality issues will have been addressed.”
 
“It’s 2014. We’ve had many years for mining technology to increase,” said Joe Baltich of Ely, who also stated his belief that if mining is to be conducted, the United States, Minnesota, the Iron Range and Ely “should be leading that charge.” Joe Begich of Eveleth made comments in favor of the project as well. “From what I can follow, this company is planning to do it the right way,” he said. Norm Voornees of the Ironworkers Local 512 discussed the decent living iron mining has afforded he and his family, and noted that he had toured the proposed facility.
 
Criticism of project, SDEIS
David Kane of Biwabik noted that he had initially been “pro-mining,” but after researching copper/sulfide mining (the type at issue in the NorthMet project), he “changed sides.” “I don’t think it’s wise to mine toxic materials on top of an aquifer,” he said.
 
Project opponents pointed to what they deemed to be inadequacies in the SDEIS, a trigger for additional agency review. Elli King of Finland stated her belief that the “means of controlling sulfates are dubious and incomplete in the EIS.” Citing the Financial Assurance section of the SDEIS, David Freeman stated his belief that the cost of water treatment is “unknowable,” rendering the SDEIS inadequate. He offered as context the recent chemical spill in West Virginia, the Deepwater Horizon spill, and the ongoing situation with Japan’s Fukushima nuclear facility.

Hillary Peterson stated that, by law, a project “must be maintenance free at closure,” and that the SDEIS is therefore inadequate. Tyler Nord of Duluth stated that the Land Exchange portion of the SDEIS should be rejected. Nord also requested more information in the SDEIS on what would happen in the event of pump failure at a tailings pond during a flood (citing the increasing frequency of “100 year floods” in the region).

Public comment period continues
All comments provided will be recorded and placed in the permanent public record. The public comment period is scheduled to continue through March 13, although a request for an extension of the period is currently under review. The next public hearing is in Aurora on January 22, followed by a January 28 hearing in Saint Paul. Comments can be made by anyone online, by letter, or at one of the two remaining hearings. 
 
Agency communications to be posted
PRM continues its FOIA work to provide an enhanced opportunity for public review of agency communications related to the proposed project. PRM is currently receiving documents from two state and two federal agencies, and is waiting for documents from the U.S. Forest Service and the Department of the Interior.
 
For a transcript of the hearing, interested citizens and organizations may call Doug Bruner, US Army Corps of Engineers, at 800-290-5847. PRM will post the transcript on this website upon receipt.

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Minnesota mining document update

During the past few weeks, Public Record Media has received thousands of pages of mining documents from a variety of state and federal agencies. The document releases have occurred in response to several public record requests filed by PRM in November of 2013. Those requests sought correspondence between regulatory agencies and mining companies related to various mining projects in northern Minnesota.

Thus far, documents have arrived from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE). Later toady, PRM will be inspecting documents held by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR). Records from the Environmental Protection Agency are expected to arrive within the next few weeks. PRM will be posting all of these materials in its document archive, and will be providing summaries on its blog.

Draft NorthMet documents available

PRM has also posted a variety of draft documents associated with the proposed PolyMet “NorthMet” copper-sulfide mine. These documents include components of the Preliminary Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement (PSDEIS) for the project. The revised version of the SDEIS was released on December 7, 2013, and can be found on the DNR web site. DNR is a co-lead agency on the project, along with the United States Forest Service and the USACE.

The records were obtained through public records requests submitted by the Minnesota Environmental Advocacy Center. PRM became aware of the documents last year, and has posted the record collection in order to expand the body of publicly available documentation related to the NorthMet project.

PRM has posted preliminary SDEIS documents here, and will continue to add records in the coming weeks.

Documents in this collection include draft materials circulated to tribal authorities, and correspondence related to simulations and modeling associated with water quality impacts. Also included are documents that track changes made from an earlier version of the NorthMet PSDEIS.

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DNR announces web page for mining lease proposals

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) recently announced the launch of a web page to house documents related to mining lease proposals.  Proposals posted at the site relate to non-ferrous, metallic minerals.  Registered users of the web portal will receive notifications about new proposals as they are received by the State. 

Background
On October 25, 2013, the Minnesota Executive Committee approved 31 non-ferrous mineral leases in a 4-1 vote. At that meeting, Governor Dayton directed DNR Commissioner Landwehr to make available to the public – without formal data requests – documents related to plans and proposals relevant to the approval of mineral leases.  On November 6, PRM requested to be included on the list-serve of organizations and individuals scheduled to receive such public data. 

Twin Metals plan listed on site
The DNR’s web page for “exploration plan proposals” is here.  The page currently includes one approved exploration plan, and is also intended to include proposals that are under review.  The approved plan was submitted by Twin Metals Minnesota, LLC to DNR on November 8, 2013, following the October 25 Executive Council meeting and prior to the December 11 public availability of the site. The summary plan documents are here.

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