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Mining Industry Advocate’s View: Actually, yes: Minerals needed; unwarranted opposition to process stifles growth, jobs

Hal Quinn

At a time when politicians and business leaders are advocating to “make America great again,” certain federal agencies are missing the simplest ways to do so. Agencies like the U.S. Forest Service are hampering domestic investment by ignoring their own established regulatory processes in an effort to shut down access to some of our most valuable domestic resources: minerals.

Citing potential environmental concerns, the Forest Service recently announced its intention to block the renewal of federal mineral leases held by Twin Metals Minnesota within the Duluth Complex of Northeastern Minnesota, one of the largest undeveloped mineral deposits in the world. Even worse, the agency also would halt exploration and development of all potential future mining opportunities in the region’s Rainy River Watershed.

Bad enough that the Forest Service would foreclose economic benefits both to the region and the nation. More troublesome, however, is that the agency is prejudging a project that has yet to be proposed. Instead of waiting for mine plans to be submitted for review under the long-established National Environmental Policy Act, the Forest Service is foreclosing that process by prematurely and arbitrarily refusing to renew the mineral leases.

Any future mineral development of the leases could not occur without the separate and thorough environmental review under the National Environmental Policy Act and the Minnesota Environmental Policy Act.

Twin Metals, much like all modern mining operations, is committed to a rigorous environmental review process that takes into consideration both the concerns of state and federal agencies and the members of the community in which the mine operates.

Twin Metals has the legal right to submit its mine plan for consideration and to have its project fully considered without the U.S. Forest Service shortchanging the National Environmental Policy Act process. By ignoring these legal obligations under current law, the Forest Service is potentially setting a chilling precedent for future mining projects — projects such as Twin Metals that could bring economic vitality to a long-stagnant economy.

Minerals mining offers the state a unique economic opportunity. Minnesota is home to world-class mineral reserves, including deposits of copper, nickel, platinum, palladium, gold and silver, the very minerals needed to manufacture personal electronics, automobiles, life-saving medical equipment and national security technologies. According to studies conducted by the University of Minnesota Duluth, the Twin Metals project and similar future potential projects will generate thousands of construction and permanent mining jobs, thousands of direct spin-off jobs and billions of dollars in investment in the region. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the average annual wage for a Minnesota mining job is $83,359, or more than $30,000 above the all-industries average. Plus, the project will generate significant tax and royalty revenue for state and local governments as well as local school districts.

In the long term, the responsible development of domestic mineral and metals reserves will be a boon for both the state economy and the national economy. It will strengthen and secure supply chains and ensure steady growth in the manufacturing industry while providing high-wage jobs to hardworking Minnesotans.

But that coveted opportunity could be thwarted by the U.S. Forest Service decision to deny the renewal of valid and legitimate leases that have demonstrated valuable discovery, that have generated substantial royalties for the U.S. government, and that have been in existence for nearly five decades.

Before the Forest Service denies these mineral leases, it should think twice about pursuing policies that negatively affect both Minnesota and the U.S.

Actions like this explain why the U.S. is no longer creating high-wage jobs and why, as recently as the 1990s, our nation attracted 20 percent of worldwide mineral exploration dollars but now only attracts about 7 percent. It is past time to end this decline and instead encourage the responsible use of our mineral wealth on the Iron Range for the benefit of all Americans.

Hal Quinn is president and CEO of the Washington, D.C.-based National Mining Association (nma.org), which advocates on behalf of America’s mining and minerals resources. He wrote this for the News Tribune.

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