DFL committee adopts resolution calling for moratorium on copper-nickel mining, again exposing rift within party

Iron Range DFLers and the party's legislative leaders opposed the resolution.

PolyMet Mining plans to develop a copper-nickel and precious metals facility at the former LTV Steel Mining Co. site near Hoyt Lakes. (Photo courtesy of PolyMet Mining)

Minnesota DFL's State Central Committee adopted a resolution calling for a moratorium on copper-nickel mining in the state, a move that again exposed divisions within the party over that type of mining, which has never been conducted in the state.

The resolution, passed in a virtual Aug. 29 meeting, calls for "a moratorium banning copper-nickel sulfide mining in Northeastern Minnesota's watersheds .... until such time as such mining is proven first to be safe in water-rich environments."

Its passage put it on the party's action agenda, a largely symbolic document updated every two years outlining issues DFL activists hope the party will focus on. It does not add it to DFL's official party platform and it does not bind a DFL candidate or politician to the resolution's position.

But efforts to include the resolution again exposed the party's division among environmentalists arguing that type of mining is too risky, Iron Range politicians supporting those mines for the good-paying jobs and top party officials urging party unity.

The DFL Environmental Caucus lauded the resolution's passage.


"We, along with the majority of Minnesotans, oppose sulfide mining in Northeastern Minnesota," the caucus said in a statement . "This is NOT the right new industry to move into at this critical time. We need to diversify the economy, not double down on boom-or-bust economics."

Democratic-Farmer-Labor party politicians on the Iron Range, however, condemned the resolution's passage. In a joint statement, Sen. David Tomassoni of Chisholm, Sen. Tom Bakk of Cook, Rep. Dave Lislegard of Aurora, Rep. Julie Sandstede of Hibbing and Rep. Rob Ecklund of International Falls vowed continued support of copper-nickel mining in the Minnesota House and Senate.

"The Iron Range delegation has always supported, promoted, and defended mining, our jobs, and our way of life," the delegation said. "The proud history and traditions of the Iron Range run as deep as the minerals under our feet. Our commitment to fight for the men and women of labor, our businesses, and our communities will never change."

While copper-nickel mining has never been done in the state, several companies have projects in various stages of development. Permits for PolyMet, which is hoping to open a mine and processing facility near Hoyt Lakes and Babbitt, face numerous court challenges while Twin Metals, proposing an underground mine and processing plant near Ely just outside the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, just started the state and federal review process last year.

Similar copper-nickel mining resolutions have divided the party in the past.

In 2016, the DFL State Central Committee rejected a similar resolution as party leaders urged unity and feared losing rural voters, Minnesota Public Radio reported at the time .

Earlier yet, a resolution introduced during the DFL's 2014 state convention in Duluth aimed to strike a delicate balance between DFLers who support mining -- and especially starting a new copper mining industry in northern Minnesota -- and those who say the danger of copper mining to the environment may be too high. But delegates tabled the resolution before it could be added to the platform .

Like those past efforts, DFL leaders last weekend said it would be better to balance good-paying jobs and environmental protection. In a letter read by DFLer Pommella Wegmann, DFL legislature leaders House Speaker Melissa Hortman, Senate Minority Leader Susan Kent and House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler urged the committee to hold off on passing the resolution.


"As you consider the DFL party platform today, we urge you to take more time to review the statement related to copper-nickeling mining in northern Minnesota," the letter said. "We believe the platform needs a strong statement related to this new form of mining in water-rich regions, but our party's position will be stronger if we can bring all DFLers together."

The letter continued, "We can not afford to be divided in the most important election we may ever experience. Unity must be our goal. We are committed to adopting a mining and water protection plank that unites DFLers and we will help deliver on that commitment before the next regular legislative session in January."

Still, the resolution passed in eight congressional districts and 29 organizing units while more than 60% of the convention voted in favor of the resolution, according to the DFL Environmental Caucus.

Bryan Hansel, chair of the Cook County DFL and Central Committee member, said he voted against efforts to remove the resolution from the action agenda.

"I give great deference to the voice of the people, so I voted against removing it and removing other resolutions that people wanted to remove from the platform and action agenda," Hansel told the News Tribune. "It's not right for party bosses to overrule the people's voice. It's our responsibility to protect the people's voice and let it be heard."

Jimmy Lovrien covers energy, mining and the 8th Congressional District for the Duluth News Tribune. He can be reached at or 218-723-5332.
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