From pipelines to mines, Trumpism on the march

Newton Lake, BWCAW, Minnesota

On Tuesday, President Donald Trump signed an executive order clearing the way for the controversial Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipeline projects. Both projects were stalled under President Obama out of environmental concerns.

Citing the jobs the projects would create and promising American-made steel in the construction process, Trump waved his order in front of the cameras and said the move would be “good for the American worker.”

As predicted, Trump quite quickly undid the victories won by environmentalists and Native Americans during the waning days of the Obama administration. But Trump and Congressional Republicans aren’t likely to stop there.

Similar federal measures blocking mineral exploration near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness will also bite the dust. Now, bear in mind, that doesn’t necessarily mean that shovels will turn in the near future. It does, however, create a regulatory environment where they could. Companies would still need to invest in the expensive business of mining the widely dispersed ores in the region’s mineral reserves. (As I’ve explained recently and for the last 16 years, that is why we should always maintain healthy skepticism and foster more diverse economic opportunities for our region).

But never mind if new mines in Northeastern Minnesota don’t pan out or don’t last long, or if pipelines fail to produce many jobs beyond the construction phase. Heck, old fashioned activism and legal challenges might win out over time. That’s not what this is about. Trumpism isn’t about five years from now. Trumpism is about right now, all the time. And right now, Trump has driven a spike into the Democratic labor coalition that will impair that party for years. Unless, of course, we hit a major economic collapse, which is possible but not something to hope for.

The building trades are eating this up. And any lapsed Iron Range DFLer who backed Trump for economic reasons has been affirmed by these moves.

It this were a simple pendulum, one could argue that the swing will stop at where we left off before Obama took office. But that fails to acknowledge that Trump doesn’t seek to swing the pendulum, but to smash it.

That brings to mind the old wounds likely to be re-opened in coming years. As this wonderful recent Tom Weber story on Minnesota Public Radio shows, the 1970s BWCA debate created enduring division in the city of Ely. Some of the same people, their kids and grandkids, are prepared to fight the issue all over again.

For years, the nonferrous mining debate has centered on mining projects *near* the BWCA. The same watershed, but not within the boundaries of the park. But as this Jan. 19 story in the Guardian shows, Republicans don’t just want to eliminate regulations near federals lands like the BWCA, they actually want to transfer the lands, at a significant discount, in most cases to the states.

To remind, state legislatures and regulatory agencies generally support development of large tracts of wilderness for commercial use. That’s why the EPA is so often seen as the “bad guy” by conservative state politicians and developers.

From the Heather Hansman story in the U.S. edition of the Guardian:

At stake are areas managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), National Forests and Federal Wildlife Refuges, which contribute to an estimated $646bn each year in economic stimulus from recreation on public lands and 6.1m jobs. Transferring these lands to the states, critics fear, could decimate those numbers by eliminating mixed-use requirements, limiting public access and turning over large portions for energy or property development.

Again from the Guardian story:

The Congressional devaluation of national property is the most far-reaching legislative change in a recent push to transfer federal lands to the states. Because of the Republican majority in Congress, bills proposing land transfers could now swiftly diminish Forest Service and BLM lands across the country.

“We didn’t see it coming. I think it was sneaky and underhanded. It exemplifies an effort to not play by the rules,” said Alan Rowsome, senior director of government relations at The Wilderness Society. “This is the worst Congress for public lands ever.”

Rowsome said he’s not exactly sure how the rule will be used, but he thinks the first places to come under attack might include areas adjacent to the majestic Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona and Minnesota’s Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. Those areas hold uranium and copper, respectively.

In other words, nothing is sacred. Even the BWCA itself! This is especially true if our system values the abstract concept of a “job” beyond its equivalent value in land, water and alternative economic impact.

Here in Northeastern Minnesota, the arguments for exploring new forms of mining generally go like this:

“Northern Minnesota has shown that beautiful wilderness and natural resource industries can co-exist. No one cares more about the land than the people who live here. We have the technology to safely and responsibly mine new minerals. This will put people to work and actually improve the environmental impact of mining worldwide.”

The arguments against mining go like this:

“Nonferrous mining of the type proposed has always led to expensive environmental problems, usually long after the mines have closed. The jobs created by the projects will be far fewer than proposed, and will be just as subject to the whims of the global economy as current iron mining jobs. The natural beauty and fresh water this region possesses is far more important than a temporary boom in mining.”

Both sides consistently stick to these arguments. Both say that the other side bases their argument on misinformation. When pressed, both will further infer the other side is a bunch of opportunistic sons of bitches who don’t *really* care about the people of Northern Minnesota.

That kind of angst is like a petri dish for Trumpism. One sniff of this scene and President Trump’s administration will happily intervene. At minimum, as we’ve already observed, Trump will muzzle his Environmental Protection Agency, and delay and diminish federal regulations wherever possible. Conservative trends in the Minnesota legislature could inhibit any localized environmental protection, especially under a Republican governor.

All Twin Metals will need is for their Chilean parent company Antofagasta to do is put up the money to mine. Same is already true for PolyMet and their Anglo-Swiss parent Glencore. That doesn’t mean they will (I *still* only give it 50/50 odds), but they’ll have the table set for them should the market favor the expensive mining costs here.

Many in Northern Minnesota have quietly assumed that a give-and-take between the twin causes of protecting the environment and creating jobs would produce a working compromise on mining. What Trump is showing is that this is, and always was, a question of raw political power. There is no guarantee that lands or water will be protected, nor is there guarantee of jobs or economic health. Nothing is “safe,” nor should we assume anything based on past practices.

Should a moderate come to regret giving this free rein to Trump, they will soon find few avenues of dissent. All the negative effects will be deferred to another president, another generation, and quite possibly a different country than exists today.



  1. If Trump actually winds up”serving” 4 years, our country as it is today will be unrecognizable…and definitely not in any good ways.

  2. One could relish watching the squirming, distress and anxiety coursing it’s way through misguided liberal minds, but it would accomplish nothing. However, having to live through the past eight years with survival as our only hope, watching this leader lead over the next eight years is really going to be sweet revenge….ahhh no, sweet success!.

  3. 2017, Jesus at Last Supper checking his text messages, “Whoa, why have so many of my friends unfollowed me?”

  4. independant says

    The difference between the politicians and philosophers we are used to in government and a doer from the private sector is stunning. Handwringing doesn’t create many opportunities for the American people. The DFL/Democrats may be looking at loosing blue collar voters for a the foreseeable future. I never thought I would turn on MSNBC in the morning and see multiple Union Presidents signing the praises of a republican president but the times they are a change’n.

  5. The proof will be in the pudding .

  6. Herbert Davis, Jr. says

    Mother Nature in the form of Global Climate Change will decide the issues while the Dems cash in and the Republicans get richer.

    • independant says

      As world famous professor of quantum physics Harvey Mushman once said “If Mother Nature didn’t intend for us to burn fossil fuels she sure as hell wouldn’t have made them flammable”.

  7. Indy, You seem to think it’s unusual for union heads representing construction workers to be enthused about Republicans pushing for construction projects. You’d know it’s not at all unusual if you’ve been paying attention for at least last three decades. Construction unions will support large construction projects particularly if there is a track record of proposers following through. Their main focus is jobs for their workers. Of course, the devil is in the details. As far as the promises of bonkers Trump, the phrase, “he writes checks he can’t cash” comes to mind and GOP has not even been interested in fixing our very old and crumbling infrastructure issues.

  8. independant says

    Oh Kissa if you only knew. I now more about trade unions first hand than you realize and to hear national/international presidents of trade unions supporting a republican president like this has not happened in my lifetime that is for sure.

  9. I’m doubt a meeting of a few hours is indicative of wholesale support of Trump’s proposals. Of course, the devil will be in the details.

  10. “I doubt” Where is that edit button when needed?

  11. Yesterday afternoon, top leadership at the State Dept, career FSO’s who have served under several presidents from both parties, abruptly resigned which came as a shock to current and present foreign policy officials. “It’s the single biggest simultaneous departure of institutional memory that anyone can remember.”

    Speaking of infrastructure, the foundations of our country are crumbling.

    • Hopefully these few resignations are just a beginning. This coupled with the hiring freeze is what we need….and need a lot more to reduce the size of the bloated government.

  12. Yeah, it’s really good that those who actually know something are resigning. Sorry there isn’t a sarcasm
    symbol here to use , for those who seem to have difficulty comprehending

  13. Wilderness says

    I love the BWCAW with all my heart and I am against any mining or any other endeavors that carry the possibility of spoiling the precious and beautiful land I love so dearly. However, it’s time to start thinking critically before publishing things like this. This article was created to scare and anger people who don’t know better. You stated: “Similar federal measures blocking mineral exploration near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness will also bite the dust.” Is this a fact or is this speculation? I believed this is speculation. I could go on and on. This piece is 100% politically charged and motivated. Filth. Apparently it’s impossible for any cause to be a true cause these days. Everything has to be political. Fight for the cause, don’t fight each other. This doesn’t get anyone anywhere.

    • Filth? There is speculation in this piece, to be certain, but I don’t pretend otherwise. It is only a matter of time before the ban on exploratory leases in the BWCA *watershed* are lifted. Do you think Trump will keep that ban in place? I don’t know anyone who seriously considers that he would. Nothing shocking there and that doesn’t necessarily change much. What is surprising, and concerning, is the idea that Republicans would consider divesting of federal lands. If you read my work you will find that I have strived to accurately present both sides in the argument about mining in Northern Minnesota. I do think we need to have an honest discussion about what could happen, however, and that will include articles like this. What are you afraid of in discussing the possibility? You do realize that “Fight for the cause” is an inherently political statement, right? Hey, no one is sicker of politics than me, but in discussing public policy you cannot avoid the political implications of potential government decisions. You’ll definitely want to avoid reading anything else I write. So much filth. Filthy filthy.

      • It is desirable that the federal government divest itself of some of the lands it possesses. Eighty one percent of Nevada is federal land. There are certainly areas where it would be appropriate for federal lands to be privatized.

        However this article is not filth even though I think it a bit overwrought.

        Thank you for not writing filth in a time when so many on the left are becoming increasingly vulgar and unhinged.

  14. “Thank you for not writing filth in a time when so many on the left are becoming increasingly vulgar and unhinged.”
    I believe your president set the tone for vulgar and unhinged…and he continues the unhinged part, unabated.

  15. Joe musich says

    Cobbled together very well …
    ” Many in Northern Minnesota have quietly assumed that a give-and-take between the twin causes of protecting the environment and creating jobs would produce a working compromise on mining. What Trump is showing is that this is, and always was, a question of raw political power. There is no guarantee that lands or water will be protected, nor is there guarantee of jobs or economic health. Nothing is “safe,” nor should we assume anything based on past practices.” It is obvious to me that some of the posters here could care less about the Health of the Earth and it’s residents.

    The fact that there even exits a BWCA maybe that in a moment of weakness the raw power you speak of miscalculated that more mining was to be had and therefore walked away until taconite.

  16. This means each and every county across the nation has 5 EPA employees?? That’s 435 in the state of Minnesota alone! Absolutely insane. Trump is on the right track with this bloated, bureaucratic, job killing agency. This bodes well for the Iron Range..

    Trump Hopes to Slash EPA Staff, Carbon Footprint by 50%
    by SEAN MORAN 27 Jan 2017
    “President Trump hopes to cut the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) 15,000 person staff by at least half, says Myron Ebell, Trump’s former head of the EPA transition team”.

    According to the Washington Examiner:
    “Let’s aim for half and see how it works out, and then maybe we’ll want to go further,” Myron Ebell said now that he has returned to his position as director of the Center for Energy and Environment at the Competitive Enterprise Institute.
    Other reports say Ebell wants the staffing level to be on par with that 45 years ago when the EPA was started during the administration of former Republican President Richard Nixon. That would mean as few as 5,000 employees would remain.

  17. Wow, just wow…as you all speak about jobs, jobs, jobs, the republicans in washington are going to introduce a FEDERAL, that’s right, FEDERAL law dictating “right to work”. So much for “States’ Rights”. Ha!
    All you “Jobs, Jobs, Jobs!” people are setting yourselves up for ‘”splainin” why your grandchildren aren’t going to get paid as well as you did doing the same job. What a bunch of easily played men and women you are! Enjoy the extra 800 bucks a year you don’t have to pay to your union for negotiating your wages and benefits. Ha! Try finding a lawyer for that price! (and try to ‘splain that anti women’s rights thing too! ‘specially in the Trump era! ) Good luck! (Ya, but, if you work hard and suck up, it will be fine!…..right?) Ranger 47, thank you for reminding us that “back to the fifties” isn’t just about cars and President Nixon! You are so cute, snowflake!

  18. Trump promises on WH web site he will create 25 million new jobs over 10 years and return to 4% annual economic growth. 25 million jobs over 10 years equals 208,000 jobs per month. Politicians cannot bring back old-fashioned factory jobs nor the manufacturing hay days.
    This promise would require 25 million new workers and our population growth number is pre-ordained to today’s population distribution. Not enough working age people. We can’t grow the working age population and there isn’t nearly enough unemployed either. This plan is wildly unrealistic unless Trump is planning a huge expansion of immigration workers.
    These were the facts before Trump’s incredibly stupid, incompetent moves this week. The Muslim ban has highlighted the certain devastating effects to our country’s economy and more. Businesses, the medical community, the tech community, universities, R&D along with working class employers rely on and cannot operate without the green card holders/visa workers, the brainpower, the doctors, etc. People from outside the US with talents and skills we need will be reluctant to come here or won’t be allowed to.
    Think of Mayo clinic, read their statement on the ban and how it will affect so many Minnesotans who go to Mayo clinic if skilled surgeons, physicians must leave. We have a shortage of doctors now. We know our own rural/small town area has issues recruiting and keeping doctors here. By 2025 estimated deficit of 95,000 doctors in US. 27% of doctors in US were born in other countries. I read a story of a Syrian doctor who has been working in a hospital in Alabama for 3 years in exchange for a J-1 visa. Out of 25 doctors at the hospital, only 3 were born in US. The doctors who come from Syria, Libya, India, Kashmir are required to work in underserved areas to obtain the J-1 visa. I doubt the residents in that area want all those doctors be forced to leave nor do the doctors want to leave.

    • David Gray says

      The entire Arab world has smaller exports than Finland. A temporary travel ban from a handful of Arab countries has no discernible economic impact. Population growth is not pre-ordained. There is no “Muslim ban” and people who assert there is, if given the benefit of the doubt, show they are not familiar with the contents of the relevant executive order. Etc.

  19. Mr. Gray, you didn’t understand a single thing.
    Population growth rates can be projected quite accurately, i.e. pre-ordained.
    I have no idea why you are talking about Arab exports. There will be a big economic impact if people are afraid to come here and not just those directly affected by the Muslim ban. You have heard of tourism, international tourism which is huge? People who contribute greatly to our country economically and in many other ways will not be able to enter. Have you not read of the big corporations and smaller businesses that have many employees with green cards and work visas? You don’t get that we actually economically need them.
    President FUBAR campaigned on banning Muslims. Rudy Giuliani bragged on tv that he asked Rudy how he could ban Muslims legally. This ban created complete chaos, rank incompetence, no advise was sought from the department career and legal professionals or Congressional leaders. Hill staffers secretly helped draft the immigration plan without the knowledge of their Republican legislators and were asked to sign NDAs. Angela Merkel had to explain to him the Geneva Refuge Convention obligations.
    He is creating havoc around the world wrecking alliances, insulting our allies, world leaders while at the same time thinking he, Bannon and the rest of the Machiavellian Mayberrys know better than seasoned professional in our 17 intelligence agencies. Other countries are nervous about sharing intelligence with the grossly incompetent, belligerent WH that leaks like a sieve. You do know that this WH is being ridiculed around the world but worse the US is losing and respect of our allies. Do you think this makes us safer? Do you trust this WH to keep you and your loved ones safe?

    • David Gray says

      Your problem wasn’t that I didn’t understand what you wrote but rather that I did understand what you wrote.

  20. Jodi McMullen says

    Watch out. Ivanka Trump just moved into a house owned by Andrónico Luksic Twin Metals Minnesota LLC, is Luksic’s American unit,.

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