Statewide View: A more-sustainable future requires more Minnesota mining

From the column: "For our country to succeed in meeting ambitious climate goals, we must produce our own critical minerals."

PolyMet aerial view
PolyMet is reusing and reclaiming the former LTV Steel Mining site near Hoyt Lakes. (Photo courtesy of PolyMet Mining)
Contributed / PolyMet Mining

There have been many headlines recently focused on mining, yet one important element has been left out: We cannot have a more sustainable future without more mining.

It is unfortunate that many of the same people calling for a green economy are also opposing domestic mining projects. For our country to succeed in meeting ambitious climate goals, we must produce our own critical minerals. It is no longer acceptable to call for the expansion of clean energy and remain opposed to allowing companies to mine the metals needed for those technologies in our own backyard and by our own workers.

Fortunately, Minnesota is poised to be a leader. Through our strict environmental regulations, we have the opportunity to safely produce the minerals needed. In Minnesota, modern mining and environmental stewardship go hand in hand. Our environmental-review and permitting processes are comprehensive and science-based. Decades of review and testing inform permits, which outline strict regulatory standards for water, air, and soil quality.

Our state holds world-class copper, nickel, cobalt, and platinum-group metals deposits necessary for expanding clean-energy technologies. We have a hard-working, knowledgeable workforce — ready to get started — and our mining operations prove we will do it right.

The World Bank projects a significant increase in minerals needed to meet the demand for clean technologies by 2050. For example, we are going to need as much copper in the next 25 years as we’ve mined in the last 5,000. Additionally, there is a predicted 460% increase in the demand for cobalt and a 100% increase in the demand for nickel. We simply cannot recycle enough to meet growing demand.


Minnesota’s deposits contain 95% of our nation’s known domestic resources of nickel, 88% of our cobalt, 75% of platinum-group metals, and 34% of the copper. Based on current known resource estimates, Minnesota can supply the metals to support production of more than 300 million electric vehicles based on copper content, more than 200 million electric vehicles based on nickel content, and more than 40 million based on cobalt.

We should not export our jobs and environmental conscience to mines in foreign countries where labor and environmental regulations are often questionable or nonexistent. We should mine here, supplying needed materials under the highest of standards.

We also should not arbitrarily prohibit mining. Proposals for mineral withdrawals and moratoriums on mining prevent the mining industry from providing much-needed sources of critical metals and drive jobs and investment away from Minnesota.

We know how to mine in Minnesota. We’ve been doing it for more than 130 years. More importantly, we know how to mine safely while protecting the environment we all cherish.

Northeastern Minnesota is home to six operational iron mines and, arguably, has the cleanest water in the state. Regulators, both state and federal, have extensive knowledge of the industry and the environment and have been doing excellent work all throughout the permitting processes.

If a company demonstrates it will meet all state and federal standards, then it will not harm the environment. If you want proof, the proof is in the permit.

Doug Loon is president of the St. Paul-based Minnesota Chamber of Commerce. Harry Melander is president of the St. Paul-based Minnesota State Building and Construction Trades Council. They wrote this exclusively for the News Tribune.

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