Tensions over potential mine closure boil over days before election

A production shovel and haul truck at Hibbing Taconite viewed from a distance in 2019. (PHOTO: Christina Hiatt Brown)

I wrote several different versions of a post yesterday after news broke and then unbroke regarding the potential closure of Hibbing Taconite.

Fortunately, I was too busy to post any of them before newer information came in. So today I wrote a piece for the Minnesota Reformer analyzing the complex economic and political storm brewing at one of the Iron Range’s oldest and most productive mines. The piece is entitled “As Range mine’s ore runs out, election year drama runs high.”

With more than 700 jobs at stake, the Steelworkers union is nervous about the lack of ore and answers about how the facility stays open past next year. But Cleveland Cliffs says they’re working with Gov. Tim Walz and the Minnesota DNR to gain state mining leases for iron ore located near Nashwauk. It’s an odd political dynamic, however, and shows the combustible nature of this year’s election cycle in northeastern Minnesota.

Read more at the Reformer.



  1. Aaron, I know you know some local engineering folks who work with Cliffs who could vouch, and I just want to say, even though I appreciate you focusing on the hot take regarding the USW rumor, it’s already published knowledge that HibTac is working to secure another expansion permit that would extend life from early 2026 to early 2027, regardless of Nashwauk.

    So 2024 is wildly erroneous when without needing corporate to say so. Likely this is some sort of GOP / MAGA disruption tactic that is divested from actual internal Cliffs/Union workings. Lourenco is a business first guy, AND an employee first guy, he could care less which party occupies a state office. Cliffs just ratified their labor agreements with huge raises, and committed to $4B in investments and upgrades to the various union facilities over the course of the contract.

    Anyway, I just wanted to point out that 2024 is maybe only accurate in the sense that certain areas may begin their prep for closure in 2024 since it’s a heck of a process. If Nashwauk ore is sent over to HibTac for processing, then yeah the pit will close, but the plant and tailings basin won’t, and MAYBE we might see a few jobs go away as part of the truck maintenance and storage yard configurations being adjusted and relocated…

    • I agree on all fronts. That’s what’s been so strange about this story. Hibtac is building an expensive new buttress for its tailings basin. There’s plenty of ore *around* just not in the pit they’re currently using. I share the assumption that there is some other political motive for this story coming out this way right now. Maybe there is some three-dimensional chess between Cliffs and US Steel going on, but more likely this was either a screw-up or a political job. Goncalves wants the leases. Period. He’s in the process of getting them. I was surprised to see so much drama. Given the rally Saturday and the political spin coming out of it, I think there’s an effort to shift a few thousand votes that might flip control of the State House and Senate. The online chatter has been absolutely vicious, way beyond normal political rhetoric.

  2. Fred Schumacher says

    That Hibtac has been running out of ore has been common knowledge for years. That U.S. Steel doesn’t want to do land trades to give Hibtac more ore to mine is also well known. Mining is a one time harvest and all mines eventually run out. The Vermilion and Cuyuna Ranges did so long ago, and there’s only the Tilden mine left in the U.P. I presume youi’ve been getting the endless stream of political ads in the mail. The Democratic ones discuss policy, and the Republican ones are contentless pure emotion, the call to “fight for our way of life,” something that has never been defined. Of the three-legged stool of District 8 economics, mining and forestry only provide 3% of the jobs. When I think of how far the Arrowhead has fallen in political power in the space between Oberstar and Stauber, it’s clear that the Arrowhead has become irrelevant. From a congressman who produced results whether he was in the majority or minority to one who is virtually invisible and only functions as a reliable party back bencher, it’s been a sad fall. Even the Duluth (Fargo Republican owned) paper reamed out Stauber. The hard reality is that the Range has become politically irrelevant, its power long gone in the past.

    I don’t think the Range has yet grasped that the mining situation has changed. The operating iron mines are owned by two steel companies who are primarily interested in supplying their own steel mills and no longer want to push pellets on the open market. Cleveland Cliffs has 40 years ensured production at Minorca and Eveleth. For Goncalves, the plan is to scrape the last ore out of Hibbing and leave the Babbitt mine undisturbed as a savings account until it’s needed. As for hard rock sulfide mining in Minnesota, it’s penny ante stuff. Indonesia, which has the second largest nickel and cobalt deposits in the world, plans to increase mining thirty fold. Minnesota deposits are a rounding error.

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