Stauber hosts mining congressional hearing in Mountain Iron

Stauber and five visiting congressmen heard testimony from three pro-mining witnesses.

Six congressmen in suits listen as a table of three witnesses speak on stage.
Members of the Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources listen to witnesses testify at a hearing in the Mountain Iron-Buhl Public School Auditorium on Tuesday, May 2.
Jimmy Lovrien / Duluth News Tribune

MOUNTAIN IRON — A congressional hearing that would normally be held in the Longworth House Office Building in Washington, D.C., convened in an Iron Range school auditorium Tuesday.

U.S. Rep. Pete Stauber, R-Hermantown, chairman of the Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources, brought five fellow Republican representatives to Mountain Iron-Buhl Public School Auditorium to hear from three witnesses that support copper-nickel mining: Jessica Johnson, community outreach and government relations manager for Talon Metals Corp., which is looking to develop an underground nickel mine near Tamarack; Dean Peterson, chief geologist of Big Rock Exploration in Minneapolis; and Joe Baltich, owner of Northwind Lodge in Ely.

But their testimony on the controversial issue was unlikely to change the minds of the U.S. representatives, who already support Stauber’s push for copper-nickel mining in Northeastern Minnesota. The group also toured NewRange Copper Nickel, the joint PolyMet and Teck project, earlier in the day.

“We’re here to see what you all see every day,” Stauber said. “To hear your desires, receive your input, and therefore, make better laws and policies when we’re in the halls of Congress back in Washington.

The hearing comes on the heels of Stauber introducing a bill that he said would nullify the Biden administration's decision to withdraw, or ban, new mineral leases on 225,500 acres of federal land within the same watershed as the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.


And after the Republican energy package, which includes Stauber’s bill to speed up the federal permitting of mines, was included in the GOP’s recently passed bill to increase the debt ceiling and cut spending. But the bill is unlikely to be taken up by the Democratic-controlled Senate.

Like the speakers, hearing attendees were largely pro-mining.

A crowd sitting in red seats in an auditorium.
Attendees watch the Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources hearing.
Jimmy Lovrien / Duluth News Tribune

Dean Halverson, of Mahtowa, said he was “100% in favor of copper-nickel mining.”

“It can be done safely. … We need these mines,” Halverson said.

Steve Saari, of Ely, said he has seen graduating classes fall from almost 150 students in the late 1970s to just a few dozen today.

“We don’t have jobs that are family-sustaining, so, therefore, we don't hardly have any kids in our school anymore,” said Saari, who serves on the board of the pro-mining group Up North Jobs.

But before attending the hearing, five copper-nickel opponents stood outside the school and auditorium entrances with signs that read “Let the public speak” on one side and “Thank you Secretary Haaland" on the other, a reference to Interior Secretary Deb Haaland’s decision earlier this year to ban mining on federal land in the Superior National Forest and Rainy River Watershed.

“What we need is investment in alternatives, and we need to see that there is more than one way of life here for the future,” said Leah Rogne, who lives near Orr.


Kathleen McQuillan, of Virginia, was disappointed the public wouldn't have a chance to weigh in.

“We decided to show up because we have a voice and Congressman Stauber represents the entire 8th District,” McQuillan said. “And not everyone agrees with him on his actions with the copper-nickel mining proposals … so we wanted to make a showing that some of us would like to speak.”

Two women with signs reading "Thank you Secretary Haaland" and "Recycled E-Waste The Safer Plan" smile for a photo.
Leah Rogne and Kathleen McQuillan protest before the Subcommittee on Energy and Minerals Subcommittee hearing in Mountain Iron.
Jimmy Lovrien / Duluth News Tribune

In a news conference ahead of the hearing, Stauber said congressional hearings allow for expert witness testimony but not general public comment.

Asked about the makeup of the witnesses, and if there was anyone speaking who was opposed to copper-nickel mining, Stauber told reporters: “They’re represented by the (Biden) administration.”

John Seibels, press secretary for the House Natural Resource Committee, said all Democratic members of the committee were invited and could have invited their own expert witnesses to speak on any side of the issue.

“I am disappointed that my colleagues from across the aisle did not show up today,” Stauber said during the hearing.

Stauber was joined by U.S. Rep. Tom Tiffany, R-Hazelhurst, who serves as Wisconsin's 7th Congressional District representative and is the chairman of the Subcommittee on Federal Lands. Republican Reps. Mike Collins, of Georgia, Rob Wittman, of Virginia, Larry Bucshon, of Indiana, and Jack Bergman, of Michigan, also attended the hearing.

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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