As Senate Majority Leader, I represent a caucus that expands the state, from suburban Ramsey county, to rural Pipestone, from the forests of Warroad to the bluffs of Winona. But, I am a graduate of Roosevelt High School in Virginia, Minnesota and my heart is from the Iron Range.
Growing up, it was instilled in me how important our way of life is. We work hard, take care of our resources, and help each other out. I am supporting the mining projects on the range, because our way of life depends on good-paying jobs, protecting the environment, and securing a prosperous future for the next generation. And I’m just as frustrated as you are when someone from the metro tries to tell us how to live.
Recently, a change in leadership from the Senate Democrats removed Senator Tom Bakk from leadership, a sign of the things to come from the metro-focused DFL caucus: more delays, fewer jobs, and a Range that is just a seasonal playground for tourists. That’s not what Minnesota needs to keep our economy strong, that’s not what I want for a future on the Range. We’re not going to let the urban core dictate how you live your lives. We’ve got your back at the capitol.
Urban Democrats in St. Paul simply fail to recognize two obvious truths when they try to prevent mining. First, mining belongs on the range. Second, mining on the range is mining done right.
First, Minnesota has been mining for four generations. We started digging iron from the earth in the 1890’s to use during both world wars and to build our own infrastructure across the country.
Back then, we got the iron, cleaned it up, and got it on a train or ship to a factory. That's not the way we do things now.
Today, we know we can’t mine in a toxic waste pit. We can’t use polluted water for mining, or leave pollutants behind. We want to make the most of the natural resources we have and we will do everything we can to keep the soil, water, and air clean today and for the future. The permitting process from both the federal and state government has been rigorous and intense. Twin Metals and Polymet have taken every step to adapt and ensure that they are meeting the expectations we made clear.
But a good thing can be taken too far. The delays, lawsuits, and legal battles have been costly. Not just for the company’s legal fees, but for the Rangers who would greatly benefit from the investment in our workers and our communities. The next generation is leaving the Range because the jobs their parents and grandparents had are not there for them. With them they take their work ethic, their leadership in the community, and their young children from the schools.
It’s affected the economy of the state. More tax dollars being put into welfare and assistance, failed economic development grants (remember that chopstick factory?) schools closing and rival hockey teams combining because of a lack of enrollment. We’ve been trying to do something other than mining for decades, but the Range needs to do what it does best: provide the natural resources for our future with good-paying jobs by using the skills and resources that only the Range has.
Secondly, Minnesota is consistently ranked as a “best of” state. In 2019 alone we ranked the second-best for quality of life, the friendliest state according to a travel website, and the third best state in the nation overall by U.S. News & World Report, period. That’s exactly why we need mining here in Minnesota- we can do it better than anyone else.
The Guardian reports some of our favorite brands -- Apple, Dell, Google, Microsoft and Tesla -- have all been named in a lawsuit over the death of 14 children in the Republic of Congo. These children died while mining for copper and cobalt.
Amnesty International reports that children as young as seven years old work in mines digging for metals without any protection. Foreign Policy magazine highlighted Chinese investments into African mining companies that have polluted the water supply for villages and threaten the extinction of unique species.
We worry about the pollution and potential for disaster here, but there is a major difference: In Minnesota, we mandate, regulate, and investigate the best protections for people, soil, water, and air.
If we don’t find a way to mine here, we will be creating the future on the back of child labor and on pollution and waste from careless foreign leaders because we were trying to claim the moral high ground for ourselves.
We need the copper, nickel, and other metals from the earth for our cell phones, electric vehicles, and emerging technologies. We don’t need the child and forced labor, pollution, and deforestation from other nations.
Right now we’re just looking at two copper-nickel mines- but Minnesota has the largest cobalt deposit in the United States, cobalt that is necessary for lithium-ion batteries. After everything we’ve put Polymet and TwinMetals through for copper and nickel – do you think the children, creatures, and resources in other nations stand a chance if we can’t get it done here?
Let’s mine in the Range. Let’s do it right. For Minnesota, and for the world.
Paul Gazelka is the Minnesota Senate Majority Leader.