Nolan rankles environmentalists with pro-mining vote

politics_mn.jpgU.S. Rep. Rick Nolan (D-MN8) voted yesterday to support HF 761, a bill streamlining the federal permit process for new mines, such as controversial nonferrous mines proposed in northern Minnesota. Nolan was one of only 15 Democrats to support the bill which passed 246-178, mostly with Republican House majority votes.

John Myers of the Duluth News Tribune reported on Nolan’s vote. In a written statement, Nolan said:

Even though this is not the bill I would have written, I voted yes on H.R. 761 because we need to streamline and standardize a broken mining permitting process that is delaying projects with the potential for thousands of good paying jobs and billions of dollars in economic development.

I will continue to do everything within my power to advance good paying mining jobs and work for strong environmental protections in all the laws and policies that affect the mining industry.

Nolan’s support of the bill seemed to surprise and dismay some of his own supporters: environmentalists skeptical of mining company claims about environmental protection, jobs and long-term risk. Nevertheless, many of Nolan’s Iron Range constituents and elected leaders in this region lobbied Nolan hard for his support of the bill. Nolan appears to have concluded that the vague language in the bill which he had previously lamented was worth accepting in favor of reform to the permit process, which routinely takes many years for most large projects.

It was certainly the politically sound choice for an Iron Range congressman in an increasingly volatile district which has sent three different people to Congress since President Obama was elected.

I’ve been writing recently about the big picture of planning northern Minnesota’s future, specifically here on the Iron Range. My newspaper column this week goes into the need for economic diversification beyond mining. I also wrote about the cultural history of land, water and mining on the Iron Range for The Daily Yonder. These pieces were well received, but you also have to consider the immense political pressure to support the abstract concept of mining in this region which has leaned hard on the power of the mining industry for more than a century.

If you want a feel for what that pressure looks like, watch the video below. It’s from the recent “launch party” of “MINE II,” the second of a special newspaper publication series in the Mesabi Daily News, Hibbing Daily Tribune and Grand Rapids Herald Review.

The first “MINE” publication was a mostly benign, occasionally interesting, ink-festooned “tab” that is essentially the revenue-generating symbol of the strong pro-mining editorial position of the three largest newspapers due north of Duluth. The second one promises to be the same thing with different stories. I expect they’ll go on like this for as long as they make money, which I expect they will.

The event shown in the video was attended by about 100 people, mostly elected officials, opinion leaders, editors, reporters and many of the people who have significant influence over the dynamic of future elections. And they were all there to celebrate something they all agreed should be in all the newspapers.

Nolan had no play here except the one he ran. The devil is in the details, and he’s hoping he can mop up what he doesn’t like in the bill later. In any event, the bill has almost no chance of making it to the Senate floor.

So, here we are again. Big Drama. No Impact.


  1. Herb Davis, Jr. says

    I want the Rangers to mine copper etc. AND force the mining companies to set aside an escrow account to pay for the clean up after they mine, sell the company and, then go bankrupt. If they leave the environment unspoiled we can refund their escrow account.
    I’d also like to see a union contract that guarantees wages, working conditions and, retirement benefits guaranteed by a state managed pension fund.
    The local “players” seem to be primarily interested in helping the company make profits and allow a few hundred folks to work for them. I doubt all the wages will come to an amount that equals the money spent on PR and lobbyists!

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