Range paper hits Otto over mining lease vote

Iron Range newsThe issue of nonferrous mining in northeastern Minnesota is a virtual minefield for politicians, especially those within Minnesota’s Democratic Farmer-Labor party, the political home to both pro-mining labor forces and anti-mining environmental forces. The DFL divide over mining is often played up to force political leaders into specific positions, or punish them if they don’t. And there’s no better example than this.

Sunday’s Mesabi Daily News features a front page story, top of the fold, banner headline, pointing out that DFL State Auditor Rebecca Otto issued a fundraising appeal after she voted against new mining exploration leases in her role as a member of the state’s Executive Council a few weeks ago. Now, she did do that. I was one of many to get the fundraising e-mail. But the MDN story is built around the idea that this is somehow bad, or that the vote was done solely to raise money. Having been around a few fundraisers here on the Range, I can safely say that lots of money is raised on pro-mining votes as well. Votes are used in fundraising appeals all the time, by politicians of all stripes.

But the message from the devoutly pro-mining largest newspaper on the Iron Range is clear. Those who vote against mining (and the vote passed overwhelmingly by the way; the leases will be issued), have no right to that position, or to petition among people who agree. And statewide politicians have to fall in line with this thinking or be roughed up in Iron Range media — something decidedly inconvenient for DFL politicians hoping to preserve big margins here come November. Rep. Rick Nolan and Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken are all coming out pro-mining for this very reason.

But the MDN editorial slant, which also reflects the attitudes found among some Range leaders, is a self-defeating strategy for the Iron Range, especially when anti-mining forces are currently losing the legislative battle. The coalition of moderates and liberals that generally win elections for both Range causes and DFL politicians is fragile. Republican control might loosen up mining regulations, but it will put the Range’s old DFL guard on the outside, looking in. Now, the Mesabi Daily News doesn’t care much about that. But the effect if the Range DFL is neutered is a more liberal DFL party, one that is more likely to legislate restrictions on mining than the one we’ve got now. Even if the Range became a swing region — 50/50 — state population trends would mean that in short order, the new DFL would gain power and pro-mining forces would find a more emboldened opposition. One more likely to reverse the Executive Council decision.

Is that worth the loyalty purges? The reality is most Minnesotans aren’t motivated by this issue alone. Pro-mining forces need to realize that the status quo — general support of mining from both parties — is as good as it can get for them. Disrupting the DFL coalition will only lead to deeper trenches, more immovable positions, and the possibility of pulled permits.

Have I mentioned, we’re still years away from permits? We are.


  1. Reid Carron says

    Hi, Aaron. Thanks for your ongoing coverage of the sulfide-ore mining issue. Northeastern Minnesota’s water, landscape, and current sustainable economies will be devastated if this mining is permitted. My only disagreement with the contents of this article is your use of the term “non-ferrous” to describe the mining proposed by Polymet, Twin Metals, and the others. “Non-ferrous” (which is the term preferred by the mining companies and their boosters because it doesn’t call attention to sulfides and the inevitable sulfuric acid pollution) is vague and imprecise–non-ferrous mining includes coal mining, diamond mining, gypsum mining, peat mining, frack-sand mining, and lots of other kinds of mining that are not iron mining. In Northeastern Minnesota, the companies propose to mine sulfide ores that contain copper, nickel, and other metals. Polymet’s DEIS in fact specifically says that the proposal is to mine sulfide-bearing ores. In future articles, please use the accurate and descriptive phrase “sulfide-ore mining” to describe the Twin Metals, Polymet, and other projects. Thanks for your good work.

  2. Both “nonferrous mining” and “sulfide mining” are technically accurate. They are also both politically charged. Supporters of mining would prefer I use the term nonferrous, while opponents would prefer I use the term sulfide. I am aware of the connotative difference in using one or the other. I have chosen to use the term nonferrous here when referring to the economic argument — the minerals involved are not iron, the current economic driver of the Iron Range. When referring to the environmental argument I’ll refer to sulfide — the process of extracting the ore that creates sulfide waste. It’s not perfect and I may slip up and use one or the other in opposing situations. My aim is fairness to all concerned. I’m not going to get caught up in a semantic argument, though, because I view both terms as technically correct. If someone wants to comment on each and every post pointing out the environmental dangers, that’s their right. I’ve written so much about this now that I assume some working knowledge of economic and/or environmental risks and benefits.

  3. Elanne Palcich says

    From my perspective, Bill Hanna is a bully and Nolan, Klobuchar, and Franken are doing a good job of playing the role of victim. I hope that Rebecca Otto has a little more sisu.

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