Mining is our past, present, future


Mining is our past, present, future

By Speaker Kurt Daudt

As printed in the Mesabi Daily News

Minnesota has a long, rich history of mining.

Iron was discovered while miners were in pursuit of gold in the late 1860s. At the time, they did not know iron would become more valuable to northern Minnesota than gold or that our state would become the largest producer of iron ore and taconite in our nation.

Imagine if early Minnesotans ignored the discovery of iron ore on the Range. Mining is not just part of our past, but an important part of our present and future.

Now more than 130 years after the first ore shipped from Vermilion Range, we have another opportunity. We’ve discovered that Minnesota is home to one of the world’s largest deposits of copper, nickel and precious metals. Everything from mobile phones to airplane engines relies on these metals.

As policymakers consider the future of northern Minnesota, we should be encouraged by innovative non-ferrous mining projects like PolyMet and Twin Metals. Ventures like these will drive economic activity in a region where it is badly needed. Our opportunity to mine in-demand precious metals should not be delayed or worse yet, ignored.

The most recent delay is the result of Gov. Mark Dayton arbitrarily holding up an access agreement between the Department of Natural Resources and Twin Metals.

The agreement, which took two years to negotiate, would give Twin Metals access to state lands to do non-invasive technical studies to see if the lands are suitable for auxiliary infrastructure for their project, and gather other general baseline environmental data. The agreement would also provide valuable information that the DNR wants and needs.

But in a recent news report, the governor linked the PolyMet and Twin Metals projects, saying his administration does not intend to “…proceed on any aspect of the Twin Metals project until the PolyMet EIS adequacy determination and possible subsequent permitting processes are resolved.”

It is senseless for the governor to hold the access agreement hostage when his own DNR negotiated the agreement with Twin Metals. It takes years for new non-ferrous mining projects to be developed and go through the environmental review process — PolyMet has been in the works for more than a decade — and new obstacles would delay both projects even further. 

Delays are the result of the governor choosing environmentalists over mine workers. Frankly, for too long, divide and conquer politics have prevented job growth on the Range.

In my view, it is not an either-or scenario. We can grow jobs AND protect the environment. Minnesota has very strict environmental laws, which protect our land, water and air. The state also has a very rigorous environmental review and permitting process. If applicants can demonstrate that they can meet all conditions of their permits, projects should be allowed to proceed.

It is not logical for the governor to say he supports extending unemployment benefits only to turn around and stall projects in the region that could create real jobs that these communities need.

I can only imagine how these setbacks and stall tactics must feel to miners who are desperately seeking work. Minnesotans want a paycheck, not an unemployment check. 

While I support extending unemployment benefits for steelworkers in the short-term, we must also pursue long-term, sustainable job growth on the Range.

Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk has been a strong advocate for long-term solutions for the Range even when he is at odds with other members of his party.

We should work together to support the next generation of miners in Minnesota.

This upcoming legislative session, House Republicans will provide tax relief for hardworking Minnesotans. Our current tax relief package includes a New Market Tax Credit for employers who make qualified venture investments in businesses in specifically determined parts of the state where jobs are needed in industries such as manufacturing, high tech, timber, and mining.

Furthermore, our bill would reinstate a tax incentive for new producers of direct reduced iron ore to help spur investment among Minnesota taconite companies. Our goal is to bring better-paying jobs to all parts of the state by giving give job creators the tools to invest with confidence.

In addition to keeping PolyMet and Twin Metals on track, House Republicans also support common-sense infrastructure projects like the Sandpiper pipeline.

But once again, the governor’s administration pushed for an illegal process at the request of environmental activist groups, according to the Court of Appeals, that has resulted in further delays of the Sandpiper project. Approval for this project will bring 1,500 jobs and $25 million in property tax revenue to communities across northern Minnesota. It will increase safety and reduce rail congestion by taking up to 525 oil tankers off our railroads each day.

Lastly, all of us must continue to pressure President Barack Obama, Congressman Rick Nolan and the federal government to stand up to the illegal dumping of foreign steel by China and other nations that are flooding the steel markets and undercutting American- and Minnesota-made steel. It’s time to stand with American steelworkers rather than activist groups who may be content to see the mining and steel industries halted in the U.S.

The opportunity for a 21st Century renaissance on the Range is ours for the taking. We will lead and build consensus behind an approach that immediately assists steelworkers and expands economic prospects in northern Minnesota in the long-term.

The best days are still ahead for the Range.

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