Core Conversations on the future of mining in northern Minnesota

Last Friday I made my television hosting debut with a special episode of Almanac North on WDSE. It’s part of a quarterly series called “Core Conversations.” This one focused on the future of the mining industry in northern Minnesota.

You can view the episode in the embedded video above or by following the link.

Aaron Brown on Almanac North

Your intrepid author attempts television presenting.

Guests included Rolf Weberg of the University of Minnesota-Duluth’s Natural Resources Research Institute. The NRRI is actively researching direct-reduced iron production technology and sulfate mitigation, two vital imperatives for active mining operations.

Jeff Hanson of Clearwater BioLogic, LLC, introduced his biological sulfate mitigation technology while also explaining how hydrogen and wood products could be used to make the steel of the future.

J.T. Haines of the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy expressed environmental concerns about copper-nickel mining, while arguing that recycling and reuse could put more minerals into the economy than new mining.

Julie Lucas of Mining Minnesota advocated that proposed mining projects like PolyMet, Teck Resources, Twin Metals and Talon plan to address environmental challenges. She said they are poised to help the U.S. meet enormous coming demands for northern Minnesota’s nonferrous mineral deposits.

I owe many thanks for the excellent crew at WDSE for cobbling me together for a television audience. Producer Greg Grell and Associate Producer Megan McGarvey put together a great show. Megan’s pre-produced segments really helped start the conversations. I’ve been a part of complicated radio productions, but it’s cool to see how television works from inside the watch. I managed to avoid any meaningful flubs.



  1. Great video Aaron. Well moderated. I was disappointed in JT Haines. As is often the biggest negative of the “ideological” wing of the green movement, Mr. Haines resorted to tropes and presented a defeatist mentality regarding mining in general. The only way his position can be consistent is to also be anti-technology, but since he did not come across that way, then it’s just another example of NIMBY, and frankly just globalized capitalism that turns a blind eye to global inequity in environmental damage. The pursuit of a cleaner environment requires the art of the possible. I was very encouraged by Mr. Weberg’s words.

    It’s very unusual, and saddening, when the elder in the room is the most hopeful for the future. The Millennial generation needs to recapture that ethos of “the possible.”

    • Mostly true, although Haines did offer some ideas for the future, especially regarding recycling and potential new ways of cleaning up after non-ferrous mining.

      In general the two partisans in the show had little to add except to define the battle — Lucas did nothing but repeat the same series of tired slogans and call for full steam ahead with no offer of evidence at all. The interesting people were the two scientific and technical guys.

      No one on either side wants the Great Lakes basin and the water supplies of our cities poisoned and the environment destroyed. The answer to this problem is not currently on the shelf, since reverse osmosis with lagoon storage is not efficient enough, clearly too expensive for production under typical or foreseeable ore prices, and leaves an environmental disaster behind when mining ends — and all mining must end sometime. The answer to this problem is new technology, which both Weberg and Hanson discussed.

      Seventy years ago mining on the Range was dying. Research at the University of Minnesota created a new technique out of whole cloth, taconite production, and the Range was saved (although continued technical changes in mining technique dropped the workforce by 90% while producing more ore.). We need that again, to find a way to mine copper, nickel, and other metals in sulfide substrate without destroying our water. And, incidentally, we could use some innovation in the iron industry to stop the growing obsolescence of taconite in today’s steel industry and in the face of huge new sources in Africa.

      We need to get both our candidates for CD8 and both Minnesota’s US senators to commit to pumping federal research money into UMD and UM Minneapolis to work as fast as possible toward those goals and toward an industry that partisans like Haines and Lucas can unite behind. Ingenuity can solve this, if we are willing to spend the money and to drop the volume of rhetoric on both sides. Slogans and cheerleading don’t help, as long as the argument is “damn the wild rice, full steam ahead,” versus “no mines, no how.” Both of those arguments are, as you say, defeatist. Sit the agitators on both sides down. Bring in the smart people, like the two Aaron showcased.

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