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Local View: Minnesota’s mines can lead fight against climate change — if we let them

From the column: "As the Inflation Reduction Act signed by the president tells us, the domestic sourcing of critical minerals must be at the center of the clean-energy transition. And with some of the most stringent regulatory and environmental standards in the world, mining can be done safer in our backyard than in other places with subpar standards."

Nicole Hoffman
Nicole Hoffman, a geologist for Twin Metals, examines core samples in Ely. (Twin Metals photo)
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Northeastern Minnesota has an opportunity to become a major player in the global fight against climate change. In fact, Minnesota families could be poised to build a thriving future right here on the Iron Range as a result of the sweeping climate legislation signed last week by President Joe Biden.

Our region is home to one of the largest deposits of minerals needed to make the conversion to a clean-energy future. The iron, copper, nickel, cobalt, and other critical minerals under the ground in northern Minnesota can and should play a significant role in making the infrastructure, batteries, wind turbines, solar modules, electric vehicles, and other renewable-energy technologies needed to curb the effects of climate change.

On the other hand, those opportunities might be lost or go somewhere else if the president’s own agencies continue to make seemingly politically motivated and shortsighted decisions that prevent Minnesota critical-minerals projects from even being considered through environmental review.

For example, the U.S. Forest Service is currently working on a recommendation to withdraw a quarter-million acres of land in the Superior National Forest from future mining and exploration — meaning our vast deposits of clean-energy minerals could be taken off the table for 20 years. Separately, the U.S. Department of Interior arbitrarily canceled Twin Metals Minnesota’s mineral leases this year without even reviewing its project proposal.

We with the Range Association of Municipalities and Schools, or RAMS, firmly believe that permitting decisions must be based on the established scientific process. This is why we support Twin Metals’ decision announced this week to fight for its mineral leases in federal court and for the ability to go through the regulatory-review process (“Twin Metals sues Biden administration: Feds canceled mineral leases in January,” Aug 23).

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The cancellation of Twin Metals’ mineral leases violated longstanding legal rights the company had held for more than 50 years. With the consent and encouragement of state and federal governments, the company had invested $550 million in developing a technologically advanced and environmentally sound underground copper, nickel, cobalt, and platinum-group metals mine.

Mining is going to and must happen on our planet. Our economy and environment depend on it. As the Inflation Reduction Act signed by the president tells us, the domestic sourcing of critical minerals must be at the center of the clean-energy transition. And with some of the most stringent regulatory and environmental standards in the world, mining can be done safer in our backyard than in other places with subpar standards. Americans should not tolerate mining done in a way that harms the environment or jeopardizes worker safety here or anywhere.

Ultimately, our cities and schools want to offer a high quality of life for the people who choose to live here. This means protecting our natural environment. It means growing as a place with abundant family-sustaining jobs. It means ensuring a child can get a quality education and have the opportunity to make their life here if they choose. And it means embracing our role in reversing the catastrophic climate change that threatens it all.

The mines and people of the Iron Range have been the foundation of our economy and have contributed to our nation’s growth and defense in the past. They can now play a significant role in our nation’s future.

But we can’t do that if federal agencies continue to take arbitrary actions that undermine the policies of Congress and the president.

So, yes, we support Twin Metals in its effort to regain its leases and have its plan actually reviewed against environmental-protection standards. If its mining plan meets those standards, we will welcome the economic development the project will bring.

We cannot let northern Minnesota’s vast mineral resources go untapped. We need them now more than ever, as the Inflation Reduction Act so clearly highlights. We will fight for our ability to responsibly develop these resources. And we will stand up for the companies that are putting forward mining proposals so that they get a shot at a fair regulatory review. We encourage our state’s leaders to advocate for these things, too, because Minnesota is vital to our nation’s ability to realize our climate-change goals.

Ida Rukavina of rural Virginia is executive director of the Range Association of Municipalities and Schools, or RAMS (ramsmn.org), a nonprofit in Mountain Iron that has been advocating for the Iron Range since 1939.

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Ida Rukavina.jpg
Ida Rukavina

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