Nolan proposes federal mining institute

DFL Congressional candidate Rick Nolan today proposed development of a new federal technical institute on mining and the environment to help the industry overcome production and environmental issues to create more jobs -- an idea immediately pann...

8th District candidates
Rick Nolan (left), Tarryl Clark (center) and Jeff Anderson are DFL candidates in Minnesota's 8th Congressional District. (2012 file / News Tribune)

DFL Congressional candidate Rick Nolan today proposed development of a new federal technical institute on mining and the environment to help the industry overcome production and environmental issues to create more jobs -- an idea immediately panned by his opponents as expensive and ineffective.

Nolan said the institute would help push applied research that would help mining companies overcome technical issues such as how to extract more mineral from the same rock, but also to overcome environmental issues like reducing waste rock and making sure mine runoff doesn't damage local waterways.

Nolan said the institute should be built on Minnesota's Iron Range and would create hundreds of jobs on its camps as well as attract mining research investment to the region as it worked to promote the local and national mining industry.

"The U.S. Bureau of Mines was closed by Congress in 1996," Nolan said. "Since that time we have done little to help our domestic mining industry, or the environmental community, solve the difficult issues we face as a nation developing our strategic minerals resources."

But in what appeared to be a widening chasm between Nolan and fellow DFL candidate Jeff Anderson, Nolan said he wouldn't support the recently passed U.S. House legislation that would roll back regulations on mining projects and streamline the environmental-review process while setting limits on how long environmental review could take.


In a hastily called news conference to counter Nolan's, Anderson said he would support the Republican-sponsored House legislation and that he supports incumbent Republican Rep. Chip Cravaack's amendment that would extend the new rules to projects already in the works, such as the proposed PolyMet copper mine near Hoyt Lakes.

Anderson blasted the Nolan plan as wasteful federal spending that would create no immediate mining jobs, and he challenged Nolan to support immediate regulation reduction such as changing the state's longstanding sulfate standard for wild rice lakes and rivers. That standard currently is being upheld by the Environmental Protection Agency under the federal Clean Water Act. Sulfate often is a byproduct of mining. Anderson said the standard threatens several taconite and copper mining projects if not changed.

"While I support the idea of doing more research into evolving mining technologies, the people seeking jobs in this district cannot feed their families with studies," Anderson said. "They need jobs. They need good, livable-wages jobs."

Nolan refused to support the House bill, or the larger rush to take environmental laws off the books, saying successful mining can occur with thorough environmental review and safety regulations.

"I would support the parts of the bill that streamline the process when possible," Nolan said. "But that bill does a great deal more than that. ... It guts basic environmental, health and safety protections. ... Democrats and Republicans both support mining. The difference is that Democrats insist on rules and regulations to protect human and environmental health."

A spokesman for Tarryl Clark said she has been consistent in her support for reduced regulations.

Nolan said the institute would cost about $250 million annually -- about the cost of one F-35 fighter jet, of which the Pentagon is ordering 2,443, he said. "I suspect we could get by with 2,442," Nolan said.

Nolan made the announcement at the University of Minnesota Duluth's Natural Resources Research Institute, paying to hold the news conference there. He said several university officials privately have supported his plan, although NRRI officials made no formal statement on the proposal. Anderson held his news conference in a weed-strewn parking lot across the street from the NRRI, saying his campaign didn't want to pay the NRRI's price to rent space for the event.


Clark, Anderson and Nolan will battle in a DFL primary Aug. 14 for the right to take on Cravaack in November.

Cravaack has more money

Cravaack's campaign raised $387,000 in the second quarter this year and has nearly $900,000 on hand.

Clark topped her DFL counterparts with $210,000 raised and $259,000 cash on hand.

Nolan took in $128,000 and has $93,000 cash on hand.

Anderson reported raising $50,000 and $18,000 on hand.

Friday debate on TV

All three 8th District DFL congressional candidates will appear on Twin Cities Public Television's "Almanac" show Friday for what is being billed as their only statewide televised debate. The debate will take place at 7 p.m. at Twin Cities Public Television Studio B in St. Paul.


The show will be broadcast live on WDSE-TV in Duluth.

U.S. Rep. Chip Cravaack
U.S. Rep. Chip Cravaack (2011 file / News Tribune)

John Myers reports on the outdoors, natural resources and the environment for the Duluth News Tribune. You can reach him at
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