Our View: Declare Minnesota what it is, a mining-friendly state

From the editorial: "The same environmental reviews and permitting processes that have left the Iron Range with both successful mining and some of the cleanest water in the state can be trusted to continue ensuring responsible operations."

2017 News Tribune file photo / Hundreds of pro-mining supporters march to a public hearing at Virginia High School after a rally at Field of Dreams Park in Virginia organized by people supporting copper-nickel mining.

Of course Minnesota is a mining-friendly state. We’ve been successfully mining here for more than a century and a half, the industry fueling our state economy, propping up our schools, and defining us. Minnesota mining has been credited for being a key to victory in two world wars. If it wasn’t for Minnesota mining, the bustle and activity at the port of Duluth-Superior, the largest on the Great Lakes, would be a shadow of itself.

It seems unnecessary, but the Minnesota Legislature this year is considering action to officially and formally declare our state as “mining-friendly.” Five of 18 authors of the bill in the House are from Northeastern Minnesota. All five Senate authors represent northern districts. There are both GOP and DFL supporters.

“Mining is the bread and butter of our region, supporting our main streets and family livelihoods,” Rep. Dave Lislegard, DFL-Aurora, a House co-author, said in an exclusive statement in response to a request for comment from the News Tribune Opinion page. “Minnesota has been an innovative state in numerous respects, and the developments on the Iron Range over the past century helped build the infrastructure of this country, contributed to victory in World Wars, and brought us from no cars, to cars, to Mars.

“As we explore new minerals and advance new innovative techniques, we ought to keep leading the way. State law stating that Minnesota is a mining-friendly state would send a strong message about our commitment to preserving our mining heritage, taking advantage of opportunities before us now, and looking ahead to the future so our region can thrive and prosper for generations to come.”

“For a long time everyone in this state knew how important mining was and what it did,” Rep. Spencer Igo, R-Wabana Township (about 15 miles north of Grand Rapids), the chief author of the bill in the House, said in an interview this week with the Opinion page. “We need to make that message heard again. … We’re sitting on the resources to continue to build our state’s economy, our country, and our world again.”


The measure hasn’t received a hearing in either legislative chamber. Bear in mind, though, this is a budget year in St. Paul with a focus on state spending. Declaring the state mining-friendly involves no spending. Rep. Igo expects more traction next year in a policy session.

In the House, the bill ( H.F. 344 ) was referred to the Environment and Natural Resources Finance and Policy committee. The Senate version ( S.F. 305 ) was referred to the Environment, Climate, and Legacy committee. It’s far from dead.

“It’s very simple policy, but the policy actually means a lot,” Igo said. “When the DNR or the state of Minnesota, the MPCA, or even DEED is working with a mining company, (they’d) have to remember that in statute — it’s almost like a mission statement — (it says) we are a mining-friendly state. So our job is to help find the way to secure development of our mineral resources following our best practices, which we have. … We need to educate people.”

Resistance to mining, led largely by Twin Cities environmentalists, has, of course, been to the prospect of copper-nickel mining, its metals needed for a transition to clean energy but its operations rife with pollution and degradation elsewhere and in the past. It seems reasonable to expect that the same environmental reviews and permitting processes that have left the Iron Range with both successful mining and some of the cleanest water in the state can be trusted to continue ensuring responsible operations. Disappointingly, though, blanket moratoriums and closed-minded politics are blocking even modern mining, often without any consideration at all for a project’s details or plans.

“I grew up in the home of a miner and know firsthand how important this industry is,” Sen. Rob Farnsworth, R-Hibbing, also a co-author of the measure, told the Opinion page. “This bill isn’t binding, but it better defines what mining means to our state. It would shape the way agencies approach mining projects, from what sometimes feels like an adversarial role to a more open position. If the position of the state is that we are mining-friendly, then agencies should approach their role in regard to mining from that perspective. … It has little chance of passing this year, but as we are learning, it sometimes takes years to change minds.”

“This bill says Minnesota’s doors are open to safe, efficient, and environmentally friendly mining, that these things can co-exist in our state,” said Rep. Jeff Dotseth, R-Kettle River, also a co-author. “We support our hard-working laborers. (The bill) also helps us have a healthy conversation about the best ways we can be pro-minerals and pro-workforce in Minnesota. … Let’s take advantage of modern mining technology that’s efficient and environmentally friendly to deliver good-paying jobs, give young families reasons to stay, and stabilize our future.”

Minnesota clearly is mining-friendly. Always has been. And it’s OK for our elected state lawmakers to be brave enough to say so and to fully support an industry that has meant so much to our state and its economy, well-being, and way of life, whether with the passage of a formal declaration this year or next session.

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