Our View: Safe mining? Guess we don't want to find out

From the editorial: "Thursday’s federal order kneecapped our corner of the state, ... ignoring the thorough, years-long environmental-review and permitting processes ... that have led to countless safe projects."

Twin Metals headquarters in Ely. (Clint Austin /
Twin Metals headquarters in Ely. (Clint Austin /

Can copper and other metals critical to our transition to a greener economy be mined safely in Northeastern Minnesota, and without harming the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness?

Frustratingly, the administration of President Joe Biden has decided it would rather not know. Regardless of any proposal or any advance made in modern mining, it is choosing not to find out.

Instead of considering mining proposals individually on their scientific and other merits — as has been responsibly happening for more than a century, with the Iron Range and Northeastern Minnesota continuing to be home to some of the state’s cleanest, most pristine waters — Biden’s Interior Secretary Deb Haaland on Thursday signed a blanket public order that sticks a head in the sand on mining in our region, even modern mining using the latest in technology, best practices, and the most advanced science.

The order prevents new mineral leases on 225,500 acres of the Superior National Forest for 20 years. That’s in addition to mining already being banned within the Boundary Waters and even within a very generous buffer zone surrounding the Boundary Waters.

Minnesotans can join the Area Partnership for Economic Expansion in Duluth, better known as APEX, in being “extremely disappointed” in this “hypocritical decision,” as Lisa Bodine, chair of the board for the private, Duluth-based economic development agency wrote in a statement Thursday. “This decision is a blow to our state’s entire natural resources industry. It diminishes Minnesota’s position as a climate solutions provider and will work against the federal government’s work to address the climate crisis.”


For generations, Minnesota has been a responsible leader in natural-resources development, as APEX President and CEO Rachel Johnson pointed out in the statement. Today, Minnesota is — or it was — “positioned to play a key role in the transition to green energy.”

Thursday’s federal order kneecapped our corner of the state instead, completely ignoring the thorough, years-long environmental-review and permitting processes we’ve developed and that have led to countless safe projects.

Recall that the Iron Range safely provided the mined materials necessary to win two world wars. With more minerals needed now for another crisis, we can only shudder from where they’re likely to come.

“Not even one month ago, Joe Biden signed an agreement to fund mining projects in Chinese-owned mines in the Congo, where over 40,000 children work as slaves in forced labor and inhumane conditions with no environmental protections,” U.S. Rep. Pete Stauber, R-Hermantown, said in a statement, also Thursday. “America needs to develop our vast mineral wealth, right here at home, with high-wage, union-protected jobs instead of continuing to send American taxpayer dollars to countries like the Congo. … The only winner here is China, as Joe Biden continues to hand our foreign adversaries every advantage possible. …

“Today is an attack on our way of life,” Stauber further stated.

And a curious one to a state like Minnesota where Democratic leaders consistently join others in bragging about our exceptional workforce. This order, though, indicates a mistrust in Minnesota’s engineers, scientists, miners, laborers, and others educated and trained to protect the very environment they call home. We can’t have it both ways.

It seems Democrats “want to kill mining — and with it, hurt northern Minnesota families and destroy our economies,” Sen. Justin Eichorn, R-Grand Rapids, said, also in a statement. “Northern Minnesota could, and should, be an economic powerhouse. We are blessed to have the natural resources that are used in virtually every modern technology, and we can access them while protecting the beautiful northern Minnesota environment that we all cherish. The only reason we are not reaping the benefits already is that Democrats hate mining and stand in the way of progress every chance they get.”

Immediately following the announcement, Eichorn and other lawmakers from Minnesota mining country — and from both sides of the aisle — wrote to President Biden, “to express our objections.” They said they were “deeply concerned that today’s order will have significant negative impacts on our communities and the region.”


“Simply put, this order is an all-out attack,” they wrote. “It is unacceptable that your administration is once again choosing to invest taxpayer dollars in the development of Chinese-owned mines in nations that employ child-slave labor while blocking the development of taconite, copper, nickel, cobalt, platinum-group elements, and many more critical minerals here in America. Modern technology and global industry best practices mean that non-ferrous mining can be done safely and responsibly in Minnesota. For more than 130 years, mining has sustained our communities. … We know how to get the job done; it’s in our blood.

“Today’s order will cause Minnesota and our communities to lose thousands of potential jobs that would have resulted in future mining projects, billions of dollars in future investment in the people of northeast Minnesota, and billions of dollars in revenues that would support students through Minnesota’s School Trust Lands.”

The lawmakers — Rep. Ben Davis, R-Merrifield; Sen. Justin Eichorn, R-Grand Rapids; Sen. Robert Farnsworth, R-Hibbing; Sen. Grant Hauschild, DFL-Hermantown; Rep. Spencer Igo, R-Wabana Township; Rep. Dave Lislegard, DFL-Aurora; and Rep. Roger Skraba, R-Ely — called on Biden to reconsider and to send a representative of his administration here to meet local leaders.

“As Minnesotans and Americans, we have a duty to extract these minerals in a safe (and) sustainable manner instead of relying on foreign sources,” they wrote. “Let’s invest in high-wage, union-protected jobs right here in America by developing our vast mineral wealth in a safe and responsible manner.”

Thursday’s close-minded order was anything but responsible. It only fueled far-left extremism. Even more frustrating, it felt like this administration’s final word.

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