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WITH VIDEO: Senate candidates debate moratorium on mining near Boundary Waters

Some candidates in districts 3 and 8 believe copper-nickel sulfide mines can operate safely, while others say the environmental risk is too great.

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Chuck Frederick, left, hosts a candidate forum Tuesday with Alex Moe, from left, Sen. Jen McEwen, Andrea Zupancich and Grant Hauschild.
Wyatt Buckner / Duluth News Tribune
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DULUTH — Sen. Jen McEwen, DFL-Duluth, squared off against her District 8 challenger Alex Moe, also of Duluth, at a forum Tuesday alongside Senate District 3 candidates Grant Hauschild, DFL-Hermantown, and Andrea Zupancich, the Republican nominee from Babbitt.

The forum was hosted by the Duluth Area Chamber of Commerce and Duluth News Tribune.

Hauschild and Zupancich are vying for a seat retiring lawmaker Sen. Tom Bakk has held for nearly two decades. Both spoke out against a moratorium recently placed on copper-nickel-sulfide mine development in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness watershed.

“We have some of the cleanest copper in the world. We need to take advantage of that. Twin Metals is not looking to mine in the Boundary Waters. They are planning to mine outside the buffer zone,” Zupancich said, suggesting that the buffer was created specifically to allow for mining activity.

“We have some of the strictest environmental and safety laws. We have currently seven mines that are mining in the U.S. for lithium, copper and other precious metals, and they have some of the cleanest water around them, as well. So, Minnesota can do it right. Minnesota should be a leader and show the world how we can do this safely and effectively,” she said.

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Hauschild said he would never support harming the environment but disagrees with the moratorium.

“I don’t support stalling these projects. They have to have a fair shot. We have to, as Minnesotans, welcome those that are going to move forward with a green economy, those that are going to hire laborers and union workers. That’s something we’ve always stood strong on here in northern Minnesota,” Hauschild said.

But McEwen spoke in support of the moratorium in the BWCAW watershed, noting that Duluthians’ concerns about living downstream from the PolyMet mine have largely gone unheeded.

“I’ve been really proud to be a clean-water champion and a champion of protecting our water here in Duluth and in Northeast Minnesota. And I will continue to do that,” she said.

McEwen noted that she is a lead author of “prove-it-first” legislation requiring sulfide mines to provide proof that they can operate without causing harm to the environment before their projects can advance. She noted that the pollution risks associated with sulfide mining are far different from those involved with conventional iron mining.

Moe said he, too, wants to keep the Northland’s water clean.

“But these are minerals we do need in Minnesota, especially if we want to do something like move to electric cars,” he said. “If we need these metals regardless, we need to get them from somewhere, and where are we getting them from?

"Are we going to get them from foreign nations that use child labor and that don’t have labor standards or that don’t have pollutions standards?" Moe said. "Or are we going to do it in Minnesota but make sure that they’re following these environmental standards and making sure they're having minimal to no impact, if possible, on the environment, because I think if we say ‘no’ to doing it here in Minnesota but we continue to use these resources, we’re just as responsible for the environmental damage we’re causing in other countries."

Peter Passi covers city government for the Duluth News Tribune. He joined the paper in April 2000, initially as a business reporter but has worked a number of beats through the years.
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