HIBBING — A crowd of roughly 60-strong filed into the Little Theater at the Hibbing Memorial Building on Tuesday, Oct. 23.
For most, it was a show of support for the self-touted pro-mining rally; for others, it was to point out perceived flaws in logic.
Among the crowd was at least one retired miner, several “Make America Great Again” hats out-numbered only by blue “We Support Mining” caps. There was also a strong political presence, including Sen. David Tomassoni, Sen. Justin Eichorn, State Representative Julie Sandstede, Lieutenant Governor candidate Donna Bergstrom and Minnesota House of Representatives candidates Guy Anderson, Skeeter Tomczak and Randy Goutermont.
Throughout the 80-minute rally, the Center of the American Experiment worked to bridge the gap between pro-miners and those planted firmly in a pro-environment/anti-mining stance.
John Hinderaker, president of the Center of the American Experiment, believes they can accomplish both: mine and protect the environment.
Hinderaker has 41 years of litigating experience and has appeared on CBS, CNN, CNBC, Fox News and NBC. He also frequents several national radio programs — both as a commentator and a guest host.
As Hinderaker took to the stage, a sign that read “Mining + Environment = a Stronger Minnesota” was displayed in before him.
“Why would anybody be opposed to jobs? Why would anybody be opposed to wealth creation?” Hinderaker asked. “The only reason that people will give us why they don’t want expanded mining in Minnesota is the environmental. They’re afraid it’s going to destroy the environment.”
He produced a 40-plus page report, published by his organization in August, called “Unearthing Prosperity: How Environmentally Responsible Mining Will Boost Minnesota’s Economy.”
The “how” presented throughout the evening centered around Minnesota’s regulatory framework, which Hinderaker asserted would ensure proposed mining gets carried out in an environmentally responsible way. It would also result in 8,500 jobs and $3.7 billion to bolster the Minnesota economy.
His data was based on analysis of the state’s mineral wealth as well as analysis performed by the Center’s economist, John Phelan.
Phelan earned a B.S. in economics from the University of London, and a M.S. from the London School of Economics. Though he was present at the Duluth rally, Phelan was not at the Hibbing rally.
Per Phelan’s findings, more than $600 million in new wages stand to be gained from pushing Minnesota mining forward.
Citing a poll completed by the magazine Thinking Minnesota, 54 percent of people were “strongly” or “somewhat” in favor of copper, gold, nickel and platinum mining in Minnesota.
“There’s a hard core of about 20 percent that will never be persuaded,” Hinderaker contended. “You know who they are, and they are adamantly opposed. There’s no facts, there’s no logic that’s ever going to sway them. But they’re not the majority.”
To increase that majority, the Center of the American Experiment has been spreading their message via billboards and television and radio ads across the state. They also mailed out a condensed version of their extensive report in the Thinking Minnesota magazine’s 12th issue.
On hand to expound on that report was one of its three authors, Isaac Orr.
Orr, who is a policy fellow at the Center, warned the crowd, “We have an import dependency in the United States that’s basically unprecedented in the world.”
Lacing his message with humor, he pointed out that while copper appears in the composition of laptops, cell phones, vehicles, and plumbing, it’s all too easy to take modern conveniences for granted — even if those conveniences were made possible by mining.
Orr credited the outdated mining practices of the 1800s as fuel for disapproval among mining naysayers. But, he insisted, there’s much to be reaped from mining here; the copper and nickel deposits in the Duluth Complex are among the largest undeveloped deposits in the world. Also ripe for the picking is platinum group elements, cobalt and titanium. Plus, there are gold companies zeroing in on various parts of northern Minnesota with geology that shares the same characteristics as the gold-rich region of southern Canada.
Meaning, there’s potential for silver and gold.
Harkening back to the belief of the ‘50s that the Bakken oil in North Dakota was unreachable, Orr reminded rally-goers that they’re now producing 1.2 million barrels there a day.
“And there’s no reason why we can’t do that here in Minnesota as well,” Orr said, regarding mining.
Soon an attendee asked about recycling metals. Hinderaker replied, turning the subject to green energy, which requires an “enormous” amount of metal, like copper, to create wind turbines, he said. As the green energy movement charges forward, recycled metals simply can’t keep up with demand.
Next up was Debra Struhsacker, a hardrock mining policy expert with more than 30 years experience with environmental public land laws and regulations regarding mineral exploration and mine development. She also co-authored the “Unearthing Prosperity” report.
“You are going to see that China and Russia are important countries for many, many of the minerals we rely on,” Struhsacker began. “There’s a broad national interest in making sure that we reduce our reliance on foreign sources of minerals.”
She referenced an executive order signed by President Trump pushing this agenda and presented that the Duluth Complex could play a vital role in meeting that goal.
Struhsacker’s lead was simple: mining and a clean environment are compatible bedfellows. The two central pillars of her argument leaned on mining regulations and environmental protection technologies.
Like Orr, she opined that mining opponents rely too heavily on mines developed back in the 1800s when there were “no environmental laws” or “protection technologies” to baseline their concerns.
“As you become a world dominant producer of critical minerals like copper and nickel and cobalt and titanium, that could last for decades and change your economy for many, many years,” Struhsacker assured.
Struhsacker then turned to impermeable liners used in Nevada mines. These liners, she explained, collect product while protecting the environment and their groundwater system — similar to the liners used at the bottom of landfills.
A second example used was water treatment facilities, which employ water treatment technologies. Struhsacker likened this to the process that would be adopted at Minnesota mines, ensuring water that comes into contact with mined materials get treated and discharged “safely” into groundwater aquifer systems or into local streams and rivers.
And when it comes to reclaiming a mine, that she compared to capping full landfills by employing an engineered system of liners, soil and clay to cover it.
“Same kind of thing happens in a mining situation,” Struhsacker contended. “So that when we go to close and reclaim a mine, it's done in a way so that the long term performance of that mine is safe for the environment.”
Those in the anti-mining camp need also consider the high level of monitoring and regulations, she insisted.
At that, former Steelworker Robert Bassing stood.
“I can guarantee you that when it comes to greed and money companies are not going to follow the environmental standards,” Bassing challenged.
The Buhl resident continued to air complaints about various mines not adhering to safety precautions. While comparing them to the Titanic, he maintained that he, too, wants to see mining move forward. But in the right way.
“ … We need to put a fire to these companies’ feet and make them do everything they can to protect the environment,” Bassing said.
Struhsacker insisted his accusations of unsafe practice were not in the scope of her experience with the mines in Nevada. She felt too many requirements were in place to prevent modern mines from operating in an unsafe manner that might negatively impact the environment.
“History is not on your side,” Bassing pushed.
Other comments from attendees were largely in favor of the rally’s pro-mining theme. The politicians present were also supportive, each taking a moment to stand and vocalize the importance of northern Minnesota mining.
While it’s hard to know if any minds were changed, it seemed a clean environment was the one agenda everyone shared.