Editorial pushes back against mining opponents from the Cities

The Mesabi Daily News has had it with the big-city folk trying to destroy the Iron Range’s way of life.

In a front page editorial, the Virginia, Minn., has declared that efforts to stop mining on the Range “stop here.”

Specifically, the editorial called for a boycott of a U.S. Forest Service hearing next month on a proposed 20-year mining ban on 234,000 acres of land in northeast Minnesota.

Twin Metals has invested $400 million to develop a copper-nickel mine near Ely which opponents say threaten water as well as the tourism economy.

The editorial suggests the Range is tired of the Twin Cities crowd calling the shots, which it says amounts to ” putting the everyday Iron Ranger on trial by a jury of its uniformed peers.”

These hearings, on the taxpayers’ dime, are a mockery of working government. Go to Duluth, go to St. Paul, Ely or Virginia and it’s the same group of people talking on both sides.

What more is there to hear? And what is there to learn about mining in St. Paul? The Forest Service says it seeks a wide opinion on the subject, so by that logic environmental hearings on the St. Croix Bridge or the Fargo-Moorhead Diversion project should have hearings on the Iron Range.

But it won’t happen because this is the playground for the Twin Cities, and they’ll get there “one funeral at a time,” as Becky Rom, the leader of the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters, has been quoted by The Progressive, a grassroots publication that champions progressive politics.

We have a deep pride in our history of mining. We helped the United States win wars over dictators, the iron ore leaving here by train helps fuel the economy of Duluth and Two Harbors. It builds safe, reliable infrastructure from U.S.-made steel, and the minerals this region wants to mine will provide for the tech boom in Silicon Valley.

We aren’t afraid of funerals, and we certainly aren’t afraid of the Twin Cities crowd. We’re just tired of being the disrespected sideshow that has to explain its entire existence.

Last week, several conservation, hunting, and fishing groups started a campaign to pressure Rep. Rick Nolan to drop his opposition to a mining moratorium on federal land.

(h/t: Meg Martin)

  • MrE85

    I’m not sure we big-city folk have any more influence over the price of steel than an Iron Ranger has, but if the Mesabi Daily News wants to talk tough, that’s fine with me.

    Take a look at the photo that accompanied the editorial. See any young faces? Do a lot of young Rangers see a future in mining in Minnesota, or do they see it as the job their parents and grandparents once had? Frankly, I don’t know.

    I do know that the old “jobs vs environment” argument is usually a false dichotomy. We have learned the hard way that mining can have lasting impacts on water quality, and since this watershed has great value to both the state and the federal government (not to mention the people who live there), I think every precaution should be taken.

    You can lash out at urban liberals all you want, but that really doesn’t change the facts. Other counties can make steel cheaper than we can — likely damaging their air, water and health in the process. A new copper-nickel mine might offer some jobs, but nothing like the glory days of mining on the Range. What if the same minerals are found somewhere else, where labor is cheaper and safety and environmental concerns are ignored? It’s an uncertain gamble, to be sure.

    If they don’t want to come to Saint Paul, that’s fine. But they missed out on some good restaurants, and a chance to see their kids who live in the Cities. After all, that’s were the jobs are.

    • Sam M

      You said just about everything I wanted to say. I would also say that just because someone doesn’t live somewhere doesn’t mean they don’t have a stake in what happens to it. I own that public land up there just as much as they do so I should have a voice in how it is used.

      • Jack

        We are all stewards of the world for future generations. Short- sided views ( aka immediate actions) are killing this world we know.

      • Ralphy

        One more thought – if the mining community doesn’t want tourism $ keeping some of these small towns alive, they have succeeded in saying so, loud and clear.

      • Sam M

        I also don’t mean ownership in the abstract kind of way either. I’m talking legal ownership filed with the county.

    • Robert

      So it’s ok for other countries to ruin the environment to produce the metals we need just as long as we’re not mining; not in my backyard type of thinking. It seems that many assume that all mines become massive pits of pollution which is not the case. Yes some mines in the past have but environmental regulations are much more stringent now as compared to 50-100 years ago. So maybe a discussion to be had would be do we want mining to be done responsibly with environmental regulation and oversight or have a more out of sight out of mind mentality thinking that what pollutes in China stays in China.

      • Chris

        Tailings were being dumped whole hog into lake superior as recently as 40 years ago. Mining companies don’t care about anything but money. If you think we can just trust that copper nickel mining on the edge of the boundary waters will be done right, without a lot of damage first and then a lot of fights about the rules and the cleanup, you are kidding yourself or blinded by $$.

        • Robert

          So where do we get the metals we need for our consumer lifestyle? People aren’t going to change their quality of life.

          • Chris

            I haven’t noticed a shortage of copper. Prices are very low. Copper is highly recyclable are reusable. I will never understand how the failure of other countries to regulate pollution means we need to allow damaging mines here. The simple fact is there is not one sulfide ore mine that has not polluted and you just can’t put that on the edge of the boundary waters.

          • Robert

            Copper is highly recyclable but most don’t. Go to your landfill and you’ll see.

          • Chris

            So we step up recycling long before damage the BWCA. Simple.

          • Robert

            Really? Sounds great and I’m all for increased recycling so how do you accomplish this so it is cheap and not burdensome so it is effective in our throwaway society?

          • seedhub

            Some major forms of copper recycling aren’t just cheap, they’re profitable. I work with recycled materials from building demolition sites, and we approach 100% copper recycling on every project. If we don’t sell that copper, there are plenty of other folks willing to come in and strip it out at their own cost.

            In other markets — say, electronics recycling — it’s tougher, since the copper is harder to extract. The solution there is two-fold: first, design electronics so all of the component materials are easier to extract. Second, discourage people from throwing away their devices every year or two.

            A good start would requiring devices be sold to consumers at full value, rather than being subsidized by their carrier.

          • Robert

            I agree with much you say. The biggest issue is the discouraging throwing everything away. I make quite a bit of money every year just driving through local communities on “junk” day and collecting copper from peoples’ cast offs.

          • seedhub

            I’m not sure that’s a very good indicator, considering the one thing you won’t see at the landfill is all the copper that is being recycled.

            Relative to new production, copper is the most recycled metal in the world: about half of all production is recycled content (compared to, say, a third of aluminum). The value of recycled copper (90-95% of new) is also much higher than other commonly recycled metals.

          • Jerry

            The real problem with copper isn’t that it’s not being recycled, it’s that it is being recycled prematurely.

          • seedhub

            Very, very true — and not just of copper. The most sustainable products are manufactured once and used forever.

            Chartes Cathedral isn’t what most people would consider a “sustainable” building, but I’d love to see a life-cycle analysis of any building that lasts 800 years.

          • Chris

            Why do you think we should just trust the Chilean mining companies that they won’t pollute our land?

          • Robert

            I didn’t say trust, I said stringent regulation and oversight.

          • Chris

            The history is mining companies fight tooth and nail against any regulation and oversight and republican and some democratic legislator go easy on them. The history is there is no reason to trust sulfide ore mining can be done next to the boundary waters.

          • Robert

            Which is why I didn’t say trust.

          • Chris

            You are trusting that stringent regulation and oversight will work, which is highly naive. As soon as the mining starts, they will seek to undercut regulation and oversight and the range legislators will help them. It’s happened plenty before.

      • MrE85

        I didn’t say it was okay — quite the opposite. I just stated that fact that it is happening. As for discussing how mining might be done today, isn’t that what the U.S. Forest Service hearing is all about?

        • Robert

          You are correct you didn’t say it was ok buy it does seem to be the mindset of many. Mining isn’t a perfect zero sum polluter but neither is it the ultimate polluter that some think it always is.

      • Sam M

        I think you (a maybe a few others) may have missed the point of the post. This wasn’t a post so much on the merits of mining but more a point that those of us who don’t live up there should keep our opinions to ourselves

        • Robert

          Their point about hearings about the St. Croix Bridge and water diversion in Moorhead does have some validity. It seems like there isn’t any rhyme or reason with what requires public hearings outside of the immediate area of impact.

          • Sam M

            I would agree it seems arbitrary and perhaps the amount of hearings is in proportion to how much of a hot button issue it is. I’m not saying that its a good way to do it necessarily but it could be a factor.

          • Robert

            I think that is what the frustration in this editorial touches on. A small community seems overwhelmed by what a much larger community wants. Sort of like flood diversion on the Red River, great idea for those in the city who’ll be protected from the flood waters but not so good for the people in the areas the water gets diverted to. Mining does pollute so the Twin Cities area sees that as a massive negative whereas Iron Rangers see that mining does have benefits that outweigh their environmental concerns.

          • Sam M

            Yeah that’s fine to be frustrated but they also have to understand that we as owners of the land have the right to have a say. Proximity to the location doesn’t give them any more of a voice. I would also argue that those outside of that area pay a price for the loss of jobs up there whether that be through the grants sent up there or paying for unemployment benefits.

        • J-dawg

          Which is stupid. Public lands belong to the public, that’s the point. Everyone has a say in what is done with them. Moreover, we ALL pay the price when things go badly, for hundreds of years, while 20-30 people collect checks from a foreign company for 20 years. P.S. I live on the range.

        • Chris

          I think when you recognize you are wrong on the actual substantive issue, then maybe you try to start a debate about who is allowed to debate the issue. The substance does matter.

  • Mike

    These people are living in the 19th (or 18th) century. The days of prosperity through mass pollution are over. If the residents of the Iron Range insist on turning their natural splendor into a Superfund site, what will happen once the comparatively few mining jobs are gone? I guess they’re not thinking that far ahead.

    The idea that people elsewhere in the state (or the nation, for that matter) should have no say in a decision that will likely result in significant degradation of the environment is absurd on its face. Maybe Iron Rangers think the experience of Appalachian coal mining and its profound pollution and health costs are irrelevant to them, but they’re about to get an education if they allow copper-nickel. I bet they’ll suddenly want the help of St. Paul (and DC) once they hit the cost side of that ledger.

  • seedhub

    If any Iron Rangers want to attend environmental hearings for projects like the the St. Croix Bridge or the Fargo-Moorhead Diversion, more power to them. Come on in.

  • lindblomeagles

    The important lesson to remember here is what happened after Exxon Valdez and the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Water, unlike land, is extremely expensive and difficult to clean once it has been contaminated. The Iron Range is desperate for good to great paying jobs. But, honestly, there are many MORE ways to develop those good to great paying jobs. There is only ONE Boundary Waters’ Canoe Area. Once that’s contaminated, you don’t get another system of water. The adage “desperate times requires desperate measures,” is a false narrative. Desperation frequently leads to poor decisions; decisions individuals, politicians, societies, communities, and even cultures come to regret. Instead of criticizing Saint Paul, it’s time Duluth came to grips with “desperation,” and ask themselves a simple question. If you weren’t desperate, would you make this decision to mine dangerously close to your own watershed?

    • John

      By most accounts, Duluth is doing quite well. You have to head farther north to find the desperation.

    • Veronica

      Hey, if rural Minnesota had high speed internet infrastructure, all this would be moot.