Iron and Wa­ter

My Life Pro­tect­ing Min­nesota’s En­vi­ron­ment

Foreword Reviews - - Spotlight Reviews | Climate Change -

Grant J. Mer­ritt, Univer­sity of Min­nesota Press (JUNE) Soft­cover $24.95 (216pp), 978-0-8166-7881-5

Life­long en­vi­ron­men­tal ac­tivist Grant Mer­ritt grew up in a min­ing fam­ily—lit­er­ally close to the earth. His an­ces­tors re­spected the land, min­ing iron ore near the sur­face in­stead of bur­row­ing un­der­ground.

Mer­ritt’s mem­oir reads like a saga of sorts. He starts with the heart-wrench­ing story of the Mer­ritt fam­ily’s re­la­tion­ship with the Mesabi Iron Range, ex­plain­ing how the fam­ily was un­der­cut by John D. Rock­e­feller, who fore­closed on their hold­ings. But it was much later in Mer­ritt’s own ca­reer that he faced an­other foe, Re­serve Min­ing, a com­pany that was pol­lut­ing Lake Su­pe­rior “with sixty-seven thou­sand tons of taconite tail­ings per day.”

A sig­nif­i­cant por­tion of the book fo­cuses on the role the au­thor played, work­ing for the Min­nesota Pol­lu­tion Con­trol Agency (MPCA), in the fight against Re­serve Min­ing, putting the height­ened aware­ness of en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion into con­text. The tale Mer­ritt tells about the le­gal case against Re­serve Min­ing of­fers a be­hind-thescenes per­spec­tive on how a govern­ment agency can be a re­spon­si­ble ste­ward of the earth.

Clearly, Mer­ritt took more than a ca­sual in­ter­est in en­vi­ron­men­tal jus­tice; for al­most four decades af­ter he served in the MPCA, he worked on en­vi­ron­men­tal cases and causes. His con­sid­er­able ex­pe­ri­ence makes his his­tor­i­cal as­sess­ment of the en­vi­ron­men­tal field all the more rel­e­vant. He be­lieves there has been sub­stan­tial progress since the en­vi­ron­men­tal move­ment of the 1960s, but he notes, “Even with good en­vi­ron­men­tal re­view laws in place, it still takes an alert cit­i­zenry, as well as a strong and re­spon­sive govern­ment, to make sure the laws are en­forced.”

Iron and Wa­ter is re­ally about the pas­sion­ate com­mit­ment and valiant ef­fort of a man and his con­cerned col­leagues to en­sure that Min­nesota’s en­vi­ron­ment is pro­tected. In that re­spect, Grant Mer­ritt’s en­thralling story is a model for ac­tivists ev­ery­where.

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