Once again, a Twin Cities politician wants to call the shots for Greater Minnesota, this time by halting economic recovery and job growth in northern communities already ravaged as a result of COVID-19.
Congresswoman Betty McCollum of St. Paul buried language in the 176-page Fiscal Year 2021 Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Spending Bill — that she “proudly authored,” as she said on the House floor — to halt any federal reviews of mine plans in the Rainy River Watershed in the Superior National Forest (“Bill would halt federal review of mine plans in Superior National Forest,” July 19).
McCollum also stated on the House floor that she “crafted this language for one purpose:” to stop the proposed Twin Metals copper-nickel mine. There are at least three things seriously problematic about that.
First, she admittedly wrote this as a vendetta against one company, a company that has done nothing but invest in Range communities, following all rules and laws. That’s not how we expect our nation’s leaders to develop sound policy.
Second, she said her legislation doesn’t affect existing iron mines. But it would. Her bill would prohibit all mines from pursuing any expansion opportunities in the Rainy River Watershed, keeping more Minnesotans out of work. The fact that she wrote this legislation without understanding that it creates regulatory uncertainty and that it chills all mining investment demonstrates a lack of concern for communities that sit well beyond her congressional district.
And lastly, her deceptive ploy seems aimed at pre-emptively sidestepping the well-established regulatory review process already underway for the Twin Metals project at both the federal and state levels.
McCollum’s efforts also scream of hypocrisy. Minnesota sits on vast mineral resources that are critical to transitioning to a green clean-energy economy. When it comes to U.S. mineral resource reserves, 88% of cobalt, 34% of copper, 95% of nickel, and 75% of platinum-group metals are all right here in Minnesota. You can’t have products like wind turbines or solar panels without them. Just last month, Tesla CEO Elon Musk called for more mining of nickel, a key mineral needed for batteries that power electric vehicles. And, as most common-sense Minnesotans know, we use these metals in every aspect of our daily lives.
Bottom line: we need these resources. Yet McCollum doesn’t want them mined in our backyard — even though we have some of the most stringent labor, regulatory, and environmental standards anywhere. That means those minerals will come from overseas and third-world countries, like the Democratic Republic of Congo. There, mining practices involve virtually non-existent environmental standards, routine child labor, and lax labor laws that jeopardize worker safety. Can we honestly ignore this reality?
Perhaps most disheartening, McCollum’s bill ignores the desperate need for jobs, particularly in areas like Northeastern Minnesota where record unemployment claims and losses in health insurance coverage have devastated communities. In fact, Northeastern Minnesota counties are seeing some of the highest unemployment rates in the state, north of 20%.
Despite McCollum’s claims to the contrary, this isn’t about mining jobs versus the environment. Today’s 21st-century mines, with their technological advancements, demonstrate daily that you can have high-paying jobs and protect the environment.
Mining is at the heart of Northeastern Minnesota. The mining industry has supported families on the Iron Range for more than 130 years. During these unprecedented times, let’s not slam the door on much-needed job-creation opportunities.
Nancy Norr of Duluth is chair of the board of Jobs for Minnesotans (jobsforminnesotans.org); Steve Giorgi of Mountain Iron is executive director of the Range Association of Municipalities and Schools, or RAMS (ramsmn.org); and Mike Syversrud of Virginia, Minnesota, is president of the Iron Range Building and Construction Trades Council. They wrote this exclusively for the News Tribune.