CONFIRMED: Complaint prompts legislative auditor to assess Iron Range coal gas project loan

Today, Brad White of the Office of the Legislative Auditor confirmed to me that his office is assessing a complaint that the $9.5 million loan by Iron Range Resources to Excelsior Energy for its coal gas Mesaba Energy Project was used inappropriately. After a month or more of assessment, White says the OLA will release its decision whether it will formally audit the expenditures approved by the agency for project expenses.

So, to update my post over the weekend, the state is looking into that loan because of a complaint, not for a routine scan. I’ve been told by others this complaint comes from a citizen group in northern Minnesota that is questioning the project, but similar concerns have been raised by State. Rep. Tom Anzelc (DFL-Balsam Township) in public meetings and interviews this year. And I wrote a column about this last summer. Point is, plenty of people have been asking about this.

I will tell you, having looked at the list of expenditures myself, that it does not take an expert to realize there are many, many questions about exactly how Excelsior spent that loan money. They burned a majority of it on several law firms in the Twin Cities that each offer a variety of services, ranging from legal prep, to business consulting to lobbying. Some of that is allowable, but lobbying is not (You can’t, certainly shouldn’t, use public economic development dollars to lobby for more public funding; that’s why this is a boondoggle). But the actual purposes of many expenditures were “redacted” from the public documents. The expenditures that weren’t redacted included the complete furnishing of Excelsior’s corporate offices in Minnetonka and a subscription to the Wall Street Journal, among other such things.

There are only two kinds of people who take out an 18 percent interest loan and use it to buy newspaper subscriptions: A) Chumps, and B) People who don’t intend to pay the money back.

I hope the OLA finds the answers. I further hope that this project can one day soon be exposed as the heartbreaking waste of taxpayer dollars that I suspect it is.

UPDATE: I forgot to mention two other recent items about Excelsior.

First, V.P. and CFO Renee Sass has left the company. Don’t know why. And Gov. Tim Pawlenty, a project supporter, failed to mention the plant in a discussion about coal power generation on his weekly radio show for May 20. It’s only Norm Coleman’s entire Eighth CD strategy for this year’s Senate race … why didn’t he plug it? So many “hmmmms,” so little time.

UPDATE II: Things are happening quickly. CAMP (Citizens Against the Mesaba Project) issued this release a few hours after this post.


  1. These kind of misuse has become common everywhere. The worst thing is they don’t feel guilty for doing such things.


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