MN governor’s race likely to pit environment vs. jobs

The election results from the Iron Range would seem to confirm that voters there want more mining, despite claims of environmental damage it could cause.

The DFL has generally been aligned with environmentalists, particularly against a proposed copper-nickel mine near Hoyt Lakes, Minn.

Could this be the issue that swings the 2018 election for governor?

Can a DFL candidate win without the Iron Range?

The DFL Central Committee, the governing body of the party, will consider Resolution 54 on Saturday at its meeting in Lakeville (see agenda).

The resolution would “oppose sulfide ore mining, which is significantly different from taconite mining, poses unacceptable environmental risks, threatens multiple watersheds (Lake Superior, BWCA/VNP, Mississippi) and should not be allowed in the sulfur-bearing rock of Minnesota.”

Iron Range DFLers vow to vigorously oppose the resolution, the Mesabi Daily News reports.

“This isn’t a political issue, it’s a way of life issue for us,” said Aurora City Councilor Dave Lislegard, who was a delegate at the state convention where it was originally delayed. “As a labor Democrat, I truly hope the party doesn’t take a position against the Iron Range.”

State Rep. Jason Metsa, DFL-Virginia, helped beat back the issue twice already this year.

At the state party convention in June, the DFL kicked it down the road to the Central Committee in August, where it again delayed a vote until after the Nov. 8 election.

A little more than a month later, Resolution 54 is alive again.

“My hope is that common sense prevails and we don’t adopt a resolution that isolates what people here, who are good Democrats, have done, Metsa said.

Adoption of the resolution could prove “catastrophic” to the DFL on the Iron Range, the paper said.

The race for the governor’s seat will heat up within the next year, and considering the ground lost by Democrats in 2016, an extreme stance against the Range way of life, fronted by the environmental caucus and Martin, could flip the region red.

It could also put Range DFLers face to face with the party, or their constituents.

“It’s been a hot-button political issue that got used this election cycle,” Metsa said. “I don’t know on the fallout or what there will be.”

Meanwhile, MPR News reporter Tim Pugmire writes that Republicans are already lining up to grab the open seat for governor, completing the Republican sweep in the once-blue state.

In his interview with 60 Minutes last night, U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan was asked about rolling back environmental regulations and protections during the Trump administration. He didn’t give either a unqualified “yes” or an unqualified “no.” He just said “jobs.”

“We’re talking about smarter regulations that actually help us grow jobs in this country,” he said. “We want to have good stewardship and conversation of the environment and economic growth. We have a real economic growth problem in America. We are limping along. Wages are flat. And jobs aren’t being created near to the extent that they could and should be. So we think regulatory relief is very, very important. And that’s something we’re going to work on day one.”

Related: The nation’s rural reckoning of 2016 (Minnesota Brown)

  • Gary F

    I noticed a lot of mining adds while watching the state high school football championships last week.

    • Rob

      Any solar or wind power ads?

      • Gary F

        Orthopedic services for all those high school kids who blew out their knees.

    • MrE85

      Growing up in Indiana, I saw a lot of “feel good” ads for coal companies. One featured an animated “Mother Nature” upset that the company was mining “her coal.” Friendly animated miner tipped his hard hat to her and said he would leave the area even better than before. She agreed, but said “She would be watching…”

  • chris

    You have to do what’s right regardless of the political consequences. Sulfide mining will actually kill more jobs than it creates when the bill comes due in ten or twenty years after the mines would open. Anybody who would trade the BWCA for a few hundred jobs for a couple decades, while all the profits go overseas isn’t fit to lead Minnesota.

    • Where it gets complicated, though, is the fact “what’s right” isn’t necessarily a single-issue evaluation. The bigger picture for DFLers could very well be keep the gov chair as DFL to prevent being overwhelmed by a GOP Legislature on a myriad of other issues of importance to the DFL. So I suppose the thinking could go that the mining issues needs to be sacrificed for the bigger picture.

      I suppose it will come down to how many non-Rangers will consider the mining issue to be what determined their vote.

      • Mike

        Yes, that’s the realpolitik calculus. But for those of us who consider the environment to be of paramount importance, and I’m one of them, this would be a long-term mistake for the DFL. It would be one more example of how they’ve become Republican-lite, a dynamic that depresses turnout, which in turn leads to more Republican victories.

        • MikeB

          You cannot protect the environment while in the political minority. That the DFL would paint itself into a corner on a zero sum game shows the need to better work together.

          • Mike

            It’s also useless to have a majority that won’t protect the environment. This doesn’t necessarily have to be a zero-sum game, except when it comes to copper mining. Other types of economic development can certainly be considered.

          • MikeB

            They are not operating as a majority and cannot afford the luxury of thinking they are. They are trying to persuade people who are currently out of work. What will they be voting on? Real harm will happen if Republicans get the governor’s seat in 2018.

            As to other forms of economic development? Everyone has been looking into that for 4+ decades, even more. By all means keep doing so, but the 2017 legislature will not be looking to diversify the region’s economy. It’s against their political interest.

      • chris

        If anyone thinks environmentally minded voters will vote for a DFL that acquiesces to sulfide mining, the rationale you describe above makes sense.

        • wjc

          Putting environmental concerns aside might crack the DFL in two. Obviously everyone wants to attract high paying jobs, but at what cost? The candidates for governor will need to have a good story for the voters.

          I would hope that Range voters would also be skeptical of GOP tax cut to prosperity rhetoric.

          Does any pol really have a solution to rural issues?

          • jon

            Some one has to figure it out soon, because rural job loss is going to be coming to the cities soon.

            Consider a single occupation… Truckers… there are 3.5 Million of them in the US… a self driving truck retrofit kit would make them all obsolete in a decade… 3.5 million not all of them can live in rural areas…

            By comparison Coal miners only ever had 800-900 thousand that was in the early 20’s, and had less than 300 in the 80’s and a little over 100 thousand today… think of the noise that group managed to make, and consider what truckers 3.5 million out of work truckers could manage, particularly if it happened in a few decades instead of nearly a century.

            That’s of course is not even including school bus drivers, taxi cabs, etc.

            People like to say that automation replaces one type of job with other jobs dealing with the automation, but tech jobs have been moving to india already… for each new one companies weigh having some one in the US or some one in India already…

            rural solution right now might be the urban solution of 10-20 years from now.

  • MrE85

    The whole “environment vs jobs” argument is based on the false claim that you can’t have both jobs and safe air and water.

    The EPA and the major federal laws that protect our air and water got their start in 1970. Between 1970 and 2011, aggregate emissions of common air pollutants in the United States dropped 68 percent, while the U.S. gross domestic product grew 212 percent. Total private sector jobs increased by 88 percent during the same period.
    In short, we improved our environment while growing wealth and jobs. This isn’t a theory, it’s a hard economic fact.

    • My hometown had thriving paper mills that fouled the river. In the ’70s they built two water treatment plants and assessed the factories. The factories moved out. The jobs have disappeard. The city is now one of the poorest in my home state.

      But the river is really clean.

      The big picture looks different than the little picture. People vote the little picture.

      • MrE85

        That’s why we get little leaders, little results, and little change.

        • Maybe, but it’s not a bad thing if people who are losing their homes and out of work don’t vote because some stats show times are good for someone else somewhere else.

          • MrE85

            I’m not unsympathetic to those hurt by changing times. I know not everyone can relocate, re-train or re-educate themselves. I afraid this has been happening for a long time in America, and we’re not finished yet. I wish I had better answers for the folks on the Range, and in your hometown, but I don’t.

          • Ralphy

            I’m reminded of Norway.
            The combination of mechanized efficiency and warming seas has devasted their fishing industry and could have turned their coastal towns north of Bergen into ghost towns.
            Rather than trying to manage a great migration that would completely overwhelm Oslo, the Norwegian government created jobs for these small towns. One might be a postal carrier with only 100 addresses to deliver to or a pothole inspector with 20 kilometers to inspect. The result is these folks have money to spend at the grocery and restaurant, cycling the money through the local economy several times, and keeping both these towns and Oslo alive.

          • Rob

            But you know we’d never follow the example of any social, health, or economic initiatives that are working in Europe, ‘cuz Europe.

      • Ben Chorn

        You can find that everywhere.. hell, I even went from oil to environmental. For every wind turbine technician in North Dakota getting a job a coal miner in West Virginia is losing theirs. Answers are complex, but to the voter the answer is always easy (and selfish).

    • crystals

      Are there any good examples on a micro/local scale that effectively show both things can be achieved at once?

  • Gary F

    Questions to ask Rep Walz and Mayor Coleman now and get them on record.

  • Jim E

    I suspect Resolution 54 will be tabled indefinitely by the DFL State Central Committee (SCC) meeting on Saturday. Mining proponents will likely be in the minority at the meeting, but they are well organized and know how to use parliamentary procedure effectively. And the committee is acutely aware that this issue will have consequences down the road.

    A similar potentially divisive vote on a wolf hunting moratorium came up at the SCC meeting in 2013 and was tabled. In that case proponents of the moratorium were apparently in the majority but got successfully out-maneuvered by organized pro-hunting delegates from CD7 and CD8.

    The wild card is the (relatively) new DFL Environmental Caucus. They support Res 54 and are very well organized. Attendees should be sure to bring a copy of Robert’s Rules.

  • Anna

    The whole idea for the Republicans is to solidify their hold on the state. It’s okay for them to kick the can down the road because they don’t have to live there like the rest of the residents who depend on tourism for their livelihoods.

    Minnesota has always been on the forefront of environmental protection. The BWCA has been off limits for commercial development for years.

    A job for about 10-15 years won’t help you when the heavy metal pollution gets into the water table and the surface waters and your lifespan is shortened because a job was more important than your long term survival and that of your descendants.

    The president elect wouldn’t recognize an environmental disaster in the making if it hit him like a bazooka. If it adds to his billions that makes it okay.

    Why do you think the Standing Rock Sioux are persisting in their protest of the DAPL? Because raping the land for profit is totally foreign to their cultural beliefs.

    It’s the environment, stupid.

  • Rob

    It’s not responsible public policy to add a couple thousand extractive jobs now, if doing so would lead to widespread, deleterious environmental and health effects in the future. Avoiding the environmental and health degradation in the first place is the only way to go, so it’s imperative for politicians of all stripes – as well as legitimate media – to quit this either/or booshwah and get busy on seeking answers to the question of how to create good jobs AND protect the environment.

    • Jeff Klein

      Well, maybe the hard truth is that there aren’t a lot of good jobs on the range that don’t decimate the environment. So maybe the answer is simply that there’s fewer jobs there now than there used to be, and as a consequence, fewer people. Why do people think they have a God given right to be awarded jobs in a particular place? The rest of us have to move to where jobs are.

      • Rob

        I don’t disagree. In fact, the Unpleasant Truth may turn out to be that there are fewer range jobs, and more dislocation.

        • Unpleasant Truths never win elections, though.

          • Jeff Klein

            Well we’re probably all screwed in the long run then.

          • Rob

            That’s a bug, not a feature.

  • LifebloodMN

    The Duluth Complex is the largest untapped copper-nickel deposit in the world. It’s only a matter of time before it’s tapped. I think we can do it in a responsible manner that leaves both the BWCA and Lake Superior unharmed. We will continue to support good data and not be swayed by ‘activists’ on either side.

    • chris

      Can you point to any copper-nickel mines that haven’t polluted? You only get one chance with the BWCA.

      • LifebloodMN

        I believe we have the technology, the will, and know how to do it better than anyone else. Newer technologies and safer processes such as hydrometallurgy will help us. And by the way the BWCA impacting plant, Twin Metals, is not what we are talking about currently.
        Polymet presents exactly zero risk to the BWCA.

        • chris

          But a lot of risk to the Lake Superior watershed. It is well known that Polymet is the tip of the spear. I’m glad you “believe” but that’s not really good enough with such high stakes. And we certainly are talking and thinking about Twin Metals as well as Polymet. You can’t limit discussion to suit your goals. The BWCA is at risk.

          There are no examples of non-polluting copper-nickel mines. Remember that.

          • LifebloodMN

            What exactly about the environmental impact statement do you disagree with?
            The risk to Superior watershed is low. But potential impacts could be moderate, technically
            Remember that all rock mined on the Range, including taconite, is sulfur-bearing rock, and a lot of the tailings are just laying around in old piles with little to no protection from the elements.
            There are no examples of literally anything that doesn’t pollute the environment, remember that.

          • chris

            So we are starting from a point where we know that all copper nickel mines pollute and then we want to put them in the BWCA and Lake Superior watersheds, and we’re supposed to be satisfied by people who stand to profit telling us that all will be well. Sorry, not working.

          • LifebloodMN

            Like I said, literally everything that you use pollutes in some way.
            As for the new mine, new technologies are used to address age old problems of smelter plants, discharge, and drainage. They have all been addressed. I suggest you look at the plans.
            We need copper. It’s essential for our daily lives. I maintain that we can harvest it with the least environmental impact of any Copper mine in the world which results in a net-reduction of pollution.
            A Prius auto requires 80 pounds of copper and a Tesla requires twice that. An average wind turbine requires nearly 5 tons of copper. Copper use is only increasing.
            Don’t we have an obligation to do it better here?

          • chris

            That’s rich. As if we have a moral obligation to put highly dangerous mines on the edge of pristine wilderness! The gall of some people never ceases to amaze.

          • LifebloodMN

            Yep, we can do it better, more efficiently with less risk and with proven new technologies here in Minnesota. Regardless of your non-sequitur logic

          • Rob

            Yes. And without chemicals, life would be impossible.

          • DavefromMinn

            The Flambeau copper mine in Ladysmith Wisconsin. You enviros told the same lies about that mine.

      • Ben Chorn

        All of the copper-nickel mines I can think of are really old, which may be why they’re known for being polluters.

        A lot of what would come of it would depend on the company. For example of a company doing it right, the Stillwater Mining company in Montana (platinum mine) donates money to help the local bighorn sheep population. They even have rules where mining vehicles must stop for any sheep on the road, even if a herd decides to lay down.

        There are ways for companies to ‘do the right thing’ while mining resources.

      • DavefromMinn

        The Flambeau copper mine in Ladysmith Wisconsin.

        • epalcich

          Please check out Laura Gauger’s online info on the Ladysmith.

        • chris

          That’s a very sad best case scenario for you. The mine was found to have violated the clean water act in 2012 was was causing pollution in the area.

          • DavefromMinn

            The July 2012 trial court decision by Judge Barbara Crabb included the following findings:
             Flambeau’s activities were at all times in compliance with a permit issued by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources
            (WDNR);
             The permit Flambeau was issued by WDNR was more stringent than the permit Plaintiff’s requested;
             Plaintiffs cannot make a plausible argument that the quality of water in the Flambeau River was affected by the discharges complained
            of in the lawsuit and that the Flambeau River’s water quality was not threatened during the period at issue in the suit;
             Flambeau’s exemplary efforts to protect the environment during mining operations and reclamation deserve commendation, not
            penalties;
             Flambeau only became subject to this lawsuit because it was a good neighbor to the City of Ladysmith, an economically distressed
            city that asked Flambeau to retain buildings on its site and immediate surroundings for economic development;
             The copper allegedly discharged from the biofilter was so modest that [the Court] would declare the discharges de minimis if the
            Clean Water Act did not impose strict liability; and
             Plaintiffs failed to show that any alleged violation was serious in nature and there was no adverse effect on biota or aquatic organisms
            caused by Flambeau’s activities.

          • Doo_Right

            The Flambeau Mine was not a success story, except for the profits Rio Tinto walked away with.

            Tributaries (Stream C, as they called it) flowing into the Flambeau River…clearly, the stream is still polluted and it is because of the Flambeau Mine.

            In July 2012, after a five-day trial, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin agreed with the plaintiffs and found Rio Tinto to be in violation of the Clean Water Act on at least eleven counts during the time period covered by the applicable 5-year statute of limitations. The ruling, however, was overturned by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit in August 2013 on a technicality.

            The Court of Appeals did NOT clear Rio Tinto of violating environmental standards. This, of course, would have been difficult to justify, given the fact that the stream at the heart of the lawsuit had been added to the EPA’s list of “impaired waters”in 2011 due to copper and zinc toxicity linked to the Flambeau Mine operation. Rather, the ruling of the appellate court was based on a technicality that allowed errors made by the Wisconsin DNR in its administration of the Clean Water Act to “shield” the company from prosecution. At issue was the fact that the Wisconsin DNR had never required Rio Tinto to obtain a NPDES permit (National Pollution Discharge Elimination System), a requirement of the Clean Water Act that would have put strict limitations on the amount of pollutants discharged to the stream.

            Wisconsin’s Gov. Scott Walker (R) continues, still today, to weaken protections on the Clean Water Act – as well as, allowing small wetlands to be filled with toxic waste from mining or fracking. It’s only a matter of time before more cities become Flint, MI

  • epalcich

    This whole resolution argument has gotten way out of hand. First of all, the people throughout the state who voted for such resolution, voted in opposition to (copper-nickel) sulfide mining–based upon the legacy pollution of existing sulfide mines–including acid mine drainage, toxic heavy metal contamination of water, tailings basin failure and leaks, loss of wetlands and forests, and alteration and degradation of the land. Northeast legislators changed the entire meaning of sulfide mining to claim that Minnesota has been sulfide mining for the past 50 years–based upon taconite mining. This is totally untrue. Iron sulfides are not mined. See this article from the Duluth Reader: ” Minnesota DFL State Central Committee tables pro-water resolution” by Carla Arneson. Taconite mining is based upon iron oxides. If the DFL central committee had honored its own caucus results in the first place, the party wouldn’t be in such dire straits over the issue now. Sticking to the truth is the best strategy, not playing a bunch of political games. Local legislators have consistently sought to erode environmental protections while politically controlled agencies have manipulated “science” to favor polluting industries. The article above just plays into a false scenario.