Range boondoggle dealt ironic setback: being ignored

This isn’t so much news as it is the gradual realization of the haphazard Iron Range economic development planning surrounding the Mesaba Energy Project, a coal gasification power plant proposed 10 years ago by the ethereal Excelsior Energy of Minnetonka. The U.S. Department of Energy recently removed the plant from its listing of so-called “clean coal” projects. This is only significant as a metaphor, for this project will never really die — not until we stop asking if it’s dead. It will die the Willie Loman death, the sad economic development project death owed by any number of other fanciful plans depicted in cursory computer generated art. Pay attention!

My literary references would be far more amusing if the project hadn’t burned through millions of dollars of taxpayer and Iron Range dollars with no practical hope of ever delivering real jobs or clean energy. Peter Passi has the story in today’s Duluth News Tribune. Charlotte Neigh of the Citizens Against the Mesaba Project (CAMP) was on KAXE this morning. Finance and Commerce offers its take on the project’s woes, which company officials blame on “the regulatory environment.” Regulations are only a tiny slice of the project’s problem; cost, technological hurdles and lackluster private investment in this kind of power generation are the real problems. They wanted the government to build them a power plant, underwrite all the risk, so they could cash in (and yes, jobs, jobs, jobs). It’s not working.

There are more stories to come. I’ve written about this project so very much that I’ll leave it at that. Get mad and learn from the mistakes made. We’ve got but one more serious chance to reform and refocus Iron Range economic development planning before we are reduced to flower baskets and the occasional billboard on the highway up to Lake Vermilion.


  1. I fully agree with you Aaron. This was a bad deal for taxpayers from the beginning. A waste of taxpayer dollars up front…and if it would have moved ahead, a bad deal in terms of taxpayers future electrical bills.

    They’re taking a page out of old school politics & pork. Classic examples are the high cost tobacco & ethanol subsidies we all continue to pay.

  2. When’s the last time Sertich, Anzelc, Tomassoni, etc. held an appropriate meeting similar to this one to seek support from business??

    DECEMBER 11, 2010,

    Obama to Convene CEO Summit

    WASHINGTON—Representative Tom Anzelc will convene a one-day summit of corporate chief executives as part of a renewed IRRB effort to build support among business leaders for his economic agenda.

    Executives from Google, Cisco Systems, Inc., Facebook Inc., International Business Machines Corp., American Express Co., The Dow Chemical Co. and Pepsico Inc. have been invited to the Wednesday meeting at Blair House, adjacent to the White House, to discuss trade, tax, regulatory issues and the deficit.

    Anzelc wants to persuade U.S. companies to unleash some of the $1.93 trillion in cash and other liquid assets they’re hoarding in their treasuries. Cash as a share of total assets is at the highest level it’s been in a half-century, the Federal Reserve said last week. Mr. Obama wants the nation’s biggest companies to invest that money in expansion and new hires in the U.S.

    Ideas for overhauling the tax code and cutting the deficit will be a substantial part of the Wednesday discussion, Presidential adviser Valerie Jarrett said, as would ideas for “a balanced approach to regulations—to promote economic growth and give business regulatory certainty and predictability while providing safety for the American people,” she said.

    “Regulations have been a fault-line with business, so compromise on them would be a very welcome change,” said Johanna Schneider, executive director of the Business Roundtable, composed of chief executives from the nation’s biggest multinationals.

    Mr. Obama has met with chief executives since the start of his administration, but some who attended those meetings have complained that he didn’t take their views into account in policies that resulted. Corporate leaders have expressed dismay at Mr. Obama’s sometimes sharp criticism of multi-national corporations, and his administration’s regulatory and tax policies, such as a proposal to raise taxes on income corporations earn overseas.

    Business executives say they sense a difference in the approach taken by Mr. Obama since Democrats got trounced in the November congressional elections. Recent administration compromises on trade and taxes have encouraged business leaders.

    Last week, the U.S. struck a deal to move the South Korea free trade agreement through Congress. This week Mr. Obama reached a compromise with Republicans on legislation that would renew Bush-era tax cuts while extending unemployment insurance and some renewable energy tax credits.

    Since the election, Mr. Obama “has done the right thing to reach out to people in both parties… I think he is going to be more experienced, and build more coalitions than he was before,” Chamber president Tom Donohue said Friday on Fox News.

    The White House and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce are discussing dates in January for Mr. Obama to address the group on jobs and the economy. That would expand an emerging détente with the group, after a campaign during which they feuded bitterly over the Chamber’s bankrolling of Republican candidates. Chamber officials were also instrumental in the administration’s breakthrough on the Korea pact, by pushing the government in Seoul and U.S. business to support improved terms for the U.S. auto industry.

    The agenda Wednesday reflects concerns expressed in a “Roadmap for Growth” sent to the White House last week by the Business Roundtable. About 80 chief executives in Washington this week for a Roundtable meeting showed renewed optimism that Mr. Obama was serious about tackling their concerns, says Ms. Schneider.

    “This is a unique moment, we need to pull together and we are completely open to working together. What’s past is past.”

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