Governor urges caution on Northern Minnesota mining

Iron Range newsToday the three largest newspapers on the Iron Range published another edition of their “MINE” special section. Like “MINE,” “MINE II” is a collection of stories about northern Minnesota mining, stressing its positive impact on communities. Normally I would just let this stand, but I did see something really interesting: Gov. Mark Dayton declared his neutrality on the issue of nonferrous mining in northern Minnesota until the environmental review process is complete.

Bear in mind that public officials were invited to write commentaries for this section knowing that it was a pro-mining publication. Dayton has signed legislation and executive orders trying to streamline or hurry-up the arduous permitting process. He could have just said that. But the governor’s comments here were refreshingly, unexpectedly reserved.

Here’s the thing. I’m not against new northern Minnesota mining either. But, like in the story Dayton tells about the Butler and LTV layoffs, I have stared into the faces of mining layoffs. My dad, then a diesel mechanic, was laid off several times during my childhood. One of my first grown-up jobs was monitoring a youth job training program. When LTV shut down, I was deputized into the “resume technician corps.” For a few days, miner after miner brought me their original 1970s or 1980s vintage resume for a 2001 makeover, hoping beyond hope to get the same job they had then somewhere else on the Range. They had families, bills and mortgages. And there were no good options.

It’s true. It shouldn’t take ten years to determine whether or not a project is environmentally sound or not. But we shouldn’t fall over ourselves supporting or opposing things until we know what’s what. And we should not forget the booms and busts of mining, the emotional toll. As I’ve said before, in the 21st century when a company tells a community they want to mine, it’s not like winning a lottery. It’s a product of geology and economics.We enter into a negotiation, not a pep rally. The mining company will protect its interests; the community must do the same. Communities that fail to do this are exploited. Every. Single. Time.

Mining is necessary to the human race and has gone on here for a long time. It’s possible that these new mines could happen in a way that works. But we must not govern out of desperation. New northern Minnesota mining jobs are only one small part of the monumental task of making the Iron Range region’s economy and culture healthy again.


  1. Diversifying our economy in the north is a great idea. Having more jobs that are less vulnerable to busts is a great idea.

    The thing is stopping or slowing mine development in no way promotes either of those great ideas. Boom and bust isn’t great but it is better than just bust with no boom.

    Nobody who cares about the northern economy (sit down Twin Cities busybodies) should stand in the way of environmentally sound mining projects, and the environmental soundness should not be measured by the judgement of environmental groups and their lobbyists.

  2. Elanne Palcich says

    According to preliminary information submitted by EMR, the company hired by PolyMet to develop a workable mine plan, water pollution from the proposed mine and processing plant would require treatment for at least 500 years. According to current Minnesota law, a mining operation that would require perpetual treatment could not be permitted. The DNR (Lands and Minerals) is seeking to get around this by claiming that the treatment would not be perpetual; it would eventually end, sometime around 500 years from now. The same DNR has failed to require any of the existing taconite mines to meet existing state regulations for air and water quality. PolyMet’s mine proposal should have been terminated when the draft environmental impact statement received a failing grade from the EPA in 2010. The millions of dollars wasted on promoting this kind of low-grade, polluting mineral development in northeast Minnesota could have been put to use upgrading our towns and infrastructure, and the DNR could have used its authority to require taconite mining to clean up its operations–for the health of workers and their families, as well as the environment. Instead we are in the middle of a politically driven blitzkrieg to turn the Arrowhead into a resource colony for China and for global mining conglomerates, while the future well-being of our own children is totally disregarded.

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