Governor explains controversial mining decision

Gov. Mark Dayton

Gov. Mark Dayton

Two weeks ago Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton announced he would not support mineral exploration near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. The controversial decision prompted strong reactions by those for and against new forms of copper nickel mining in Northeastern Minnesota.

As expected, Iron Range lawmakers, local officials and mining advocates criticized the governor in harsh tones. Efforts to convince Gov. Dayton to “change his mind” have been unsuccessful.

Today, Gov. Dayton explains his position in the pages of the devoutly pro-mining daily newspaper in the state, the Mesabi Daily News.

Since I stopped the leasing of state land for exploratory drilling for the Twin Metals’ copper-nickel mine at the edge of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, I have been accused of being against the Iron Range and against mining. I’m neither.

Dayton goes on to explain his support for the Iron Range mining industry over his political career. Most recently, he said he advocated for tariffs on foreign steel and for unemployment benefits extensions for Range miners. He also said he supports the permitting process for the PolyMet nonferrous mining project near Hoyt Lakes.

But the BWCA, Dayton says, requires special attention. He points out the long divisions in Northern Minnesota over the creation of the BWCA and the ways that the region can move forward with both mining and environmental preservation. His letter continues:

…. the Boundary Waters Canoe Area does not belong just to Minnesotans. It belongs to all Americans, those living now and generations from now. Ely is not only its gateway, but also its guardian.

That obligation to protect the BWCA and preserve its wilderness is a responsibility shared by all Minnesotans. We have no right to risk its vulnerable ecology for the financial benefit of a large international mining conglomerate and their Minnesota investors.

There are Minnesotans, who want no copper-nickel mining anywhere in Minnesota. There are others, who want to develop it everywhere there are enough mineral deposits.

I believe the best approach is to respect the invisible, but very real, boundary that was established almost 40 years ago, which permits mining activities within the existing industrial footprints on the Iron Range, and prevents them within or adjacent to the Boundary Waters. People who can accept that division will be able to at least co-exist, if not actually cooperate.

I believe that will be best for the Range and for Minnesota.

The letter is unlikely to comfort those most angered by the governor’s Twin Metals decision. Emotions continue to run hot over this issue.

Case in point, the nonsensical controversy vortex surrounding Bent Paddle beer. Bent Paddle is a microbrewery in Duluth. Its owners joined a coalition of businesses opposed to copper nickel mining in Minnesota on the grounds that it threatened clean water, the most important part of its business.

As a result, many Iron Range liquor stores stopped carrying Bent Paddle beer and last week the Silver Bay City Council pulled Bent Paddle from its municipal liquor store shelves. This prompted a response by which mining opponents started a counter campaign to support businesses like Bent Paddle.

Now maybe you love what Bent Paddle did here and maybe you hate it. Maybe you want to drink the beer and maybe you don’t. It doesn’t matter. Objectively, none of this affects the debate in the least.


Because only a three factors matter in the short run.

  • Will PolyMet receive permits? That’s a big factor. If PolyMet is permitted it will create a pathway by which nonferrous mining in Minnesota can proceed.
  • Will those permits stand up to an inevitable court challenge?
  • Will the money be there? Will big mining investors see the opportunity or will they determine this idea was merely the product of ambitious thinking when commodity prices were higher?

All of this will take at least a couple years to determine, arguably longer. So we also know that we’ll have a new governor by the time this happens. Maybe two new governors by the time this happens. Beer drinkers will need a lot of beer during this time. Why limit your options?



  1. Independant says

    Why should the permitting process take two years or more at this point for Polymet? I would be shocked if any industry other than basket weaving would look to invest dollars into Northeastern Minnesota at this point.

  2. Philip Anderson says

    There are a couple of issues: property ownership
    /mineral rights, and monitoring of contaminated materials. By Tamarack the mineral rights to privately held property has been leased out by the state to Kennicott Rio Tinto. Such leases allow the mining company to enter private property, build roads, and construct buildings for the purposes of mineral exploration, even if the property owners oppose such actions.
    The second issue is the monitoring of contaminated materials due to copper-nickel mining. While the mining process would provide jobs in the short-term, it would also create a permanent need to monitor mining waste products. Cooper-nickel mining is much different than iron mining. In iron mining you can pile up the the excess rock while copper-nickel mining you have to perpetually monitor for contaminates from the mining process to ensure they do not enter ground and surface water…a permanent expense and a permanent danger.

  3. It’s interesting that Bent Paddle is bent out of shape over this. When this coalition was formed, they stated that the non mining crowd was worth far more to them than the little bit of sales they might loose to people in the mining area. As ye sow, so shall ye reap.

    As for the governor, typical DFL, taking the Range for granted because they are going to vote DFL anyway. The fact that it took a week or more for the reaction to sink in and issue an “explanation” says that he didn’t even consider the Range when deciding to try and kill the Twin Metals project. It’s also probably pretty much the same view he has deep inside on Polymet.

  4. If we stuck to the issue of clean water, PolyMet would never be permitted.

    • Herbert Davis, Jr. says

      That is the only point that matters to me. I think we can tax ourselves to provide incentives to clean jobs for the rather small number of people on the range.

  5. Lori Andresen says

    The governor cited the “highly toxic sulfide waste from Twin Metals’ mining…” as to why he opposed the project. Governor Dayton, what about those who would be downstream of PolyMet’s sulfide mine? PolyMet would be located on the headwaters of Lake Superior – and the entire Great Lakes system and needs to be stopped.

    • Marco Good says

      The inevitable sulfide contamination that results from copper-nickel mining is the best reason we have never had it and should never have it in Minnesota. There is no way to practically treat the trillions of gallons that WILL escape from Polymet’s or Twin Metals’ tailings dumps and pits forever, which is how long that toxic ooze will run off over- and under-ground. Look downstream wherever this mining has been done. You will see the multinational conglomerate vision for our land, our wildlife, and our people.

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