Proposition 54, where are you?

Last Saturday, the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor party central committee voted down Proposition 54, a controversial resolution that would have placed the party in opposition to sulfide ore mining.

Now, an aside.

“Car 54, Where are You?”

I earnestly considered whether or not to headline this post about a failed DFL resolution with pun that relates to a black-and-white TV comedy that aired before I was born. After all, most people alive now have never heard of “Car 54, Where Are You?” The ones who have had probably forgotten it until I brought it up just now. I’ve never actually seen it, though did rent the 1994 movie remake from the gas station near my childhood home.

And yet, despite these many misgivings, I forged ahead.

I have done this dark, only moderately amusing deed for one illustrative reason: Sixty years from now, this vote on an ill-fated DFL resolution calling for a ban of sulfide mining in Minnesota will be as irrelevant as a similarly aged TV sitcom.

That’s not to say that significant issues aren’t at play. Our state is at a crossroads with the advent of new forms of mining in sulfide-bearing ore formations. Increased volatility leaves international commodities trading in a constantly unsettled state. Jobs are at stake, as is clean water. Political power hangs in the balance, and an economically struggling region sees its fate twisting in the wind.

It’s really not funny at all. Companies seek to mine new metals, bolstered by local support from many who live near the Mesabi and Vermilion iron ranges. Environmentalists and those skeptical of the mining company claims argue that the region’s vast supply of fresh water is far too valuable to risk for 20-30 years of on-again, off-again metals mining. These forces remain locked in the same repetitive feedback loop that has bonded them since the proposition of nonferrous mining here arose decades ago.

Fill another small town high school gym for a forum and nothing new will be said.

Proposition 54 certainly wasn’t going to change any of that if it passed. And in failure it still hasn’t changed the dynamic of the debate. In fact, the Republican Party of Minnesota quickly issued a press release hitting the DFL anyway, even though the committee defeated the resolution overwhelmingly.

The fact is that the DFL includes factions in favor of new metals mining in Northern Minnesota and factions opposed. The Republican Party broadly opposes most environmental regulations and can offer endless allegiance to the corporations that develop new mines. They can’t, however, be considered the party that would support union wages in those mines, or the public institutions that serve the surrounding towns.

Will the rhetoric change in 2018? Time will tell. Democratic or Republican waves will blow based on the national political winds. Much, however, has to do with decisions voters make later.

It’s possible that an anti-mining candidate could win the DFL primary, creating another donnybrook on the Iron Range. That might swing some votes, but more likely the DFL candidate will try to chart the same middle road taken by our U.S. Senators Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken.

Will companies actually finance the new mines, though? Will prices support the relatively high expense of mining copper and other ores in Minnesota?

Always the issue of new forms of mining in Northern Minnesota comes down to these questions. Bear in mind, we’ve know the minerals were there for decades. There’s an economic reason we still haven’t mined them, one perhaps even more pressing than the regulatory delays.

The Iron Range media treated the run-up to Saturday’s DFL meeting as banner news. On Sunday, they hailed Proposition 54’s defeat. But has the debate changed? Have attitudes moved?

Not one bit.



  1. Mark my words, something like Resolution 54 will be back in very short time, and it will continue to come back until it passes. The environmental community only compromises when it provides progress towards their eventual victory.

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