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Buncha Darn Ingrates

Mesabi Misadventures Blog
November 30, 2010  

Over at Minnesota Brown, Aaron Brown highlights two recent articles that have come out for and against PolyMet within the past week.  The pro-PolyMet piece was published in the Star Tribune and was written by Kent Kaiser at the Center for the American Experiment.  The anti-PolyMet piece was published on MPR and written by local environmental activist Elanne Palcich.  What I dig about Aaron's article is that he is willing to admit that he doesn't know the answer to all of the questions being asked.  I wish more people would do that; we'd all learn a lot more that way.  Instead people begin digging in their heels, repeating the same lines, until people in the middle (like me) feel our eyes glaze over and our annoyance at the polarity grow.

I would have been all peachy and happy, but then I made the mistake of reading the comments on Kaiser's editorial and Aaron's blog.  For ten years, environmental work has been my life.  Late nights in grad school researching the biogeochemical cycling of nutrients  in Virginia's two little urban lakes leading to my move to that same city for work as a college biology instructor and water resources scientist at a local consulting firm leading to a position at a taconite mine protecting water quality.  I'm an Iron Ranger by choice and to read comments that call my chosen home a "wasteland" makes me sad, mad, frustrated, but most of all, unappreciated. 

Without the Iron Ranges of Minnesota and Michigan, we would not have America as we know it.  We would not have had the Industrial Revolution, we would not have won the world wars, we would not have the comfy, cushy, forgetting-where-we-came-from life that we know, love and take for granted.  Where outsiders see a wasteland, I see creation.  Those who came before us on the Range created those original stockpiles, those original pits, those original underground workings and in so doing, created America.  Iron Rangers created the Sears Tower, the Empire State Building, the Golden Gate Bridge.  Iron Rangers created the tanks that ended Hitler's reign of terror, the ships that carried men like my grandfather to Iwo Jima, the planes that brought aid to those ravaged by wars that the US didn't start. 

 And the Range still creates.  Your high-efficiency washing machine, your hybrid car, your technology that you cannot live without.  Miners create those.  For you.  They brainstorm about how the mines can be more sustainable, how the footprint can be reduced, how they can give back to the community in more ways than just through family-supporting wages and health insurance.  They work with scientists and engineers to find ways to make what they do even better for our communities, our environment, and our local workforce.  The mining industry is dynamic and it's always improving.

The Iron Range provides the raw materials, the building blocks of our constructed world, so that people can have easier, more "cultured", fancier lives.  Lives that unfortunately, all too often, result in people forgetting why they have it as easy as they do.  From farmers to truck drivers to Rangers to grocery store clerks to the mechanic that you just cuss at under your breath – it's too easy for us to be a buncha' darn ingrates…

You see wasteland.  I see the clothes you're wearing that were harvested with metal equipment, produced with metal equipment, shipped to you with metal equipment.  I see your food that was also harvested, produced or shipped to you with metal equipment, and heck, probably cooked with it too.  I see your house, your copper plumbing and wiring, your computer.  I see your kids riding to school in a metal bus, playing with a metal-containing iPod.  I see your titanium camping utensils, your stainless steel water bottle, your aluminum canoe, your tent poles made out of of (gulp!) more metal.

You may not like mining, but you most likely really like what it provides for your life.

As someone who proudly works at an iron mine, um, well, you're welcome.

Cravaack focuses on PolyMet

Cravaack focuses on PolyMet
Congressman-elect humbled by task ahead in Washington

Mesabi Daily News
By Bill Hanna
November 29, 2010

VIRGINIA – Republican Congressman-elect Chip Cravaack intends to keep a public spotlight on the copper/nickel/precious metals PolyMet project that could create up to 400 permanent positions, 500 more spin-off jobs and 1 million hours of construction work.

"I will make sure to make contact with them (PolyMet officials) to see what they need and as a conduit to facilitate with PolyMet, the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) and the DNR (Department of Natural Resources).

"If everybody starts talking with each other and everyone grabs an oar, we can get this done sooner than later," said Cravaack during an interview at the Mesabi Daily News last week following a meeting with PolyMet officials.

The nonferrous venture near Hoyt Lakes has been in the works for several years and has received more than five years of environmental review. It is still in the draft Environmental Review Statement process and a startup date is unclear.

Cravaack, who unseated 18-term Democrat U.S. Rep. Jim Oberstar in a stunning Election Day victory, said getting nonferrous mining in Minnesota going is a major goal of his as a congressman.

"We need to dovetail with other nonferrous projects. This is a national security issue. The minerals to be harvested would go to our computers and to green energy projects. This is bigger than the Range, bigger than Minnesota," he said. "This is one of two of the richest finds in the world."

Cravaack said he has been in touch with U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson and state Sen. Tom Bakk – all Minnesota Democratic officeholders – on PolyMet and the other nonferrous projects. He said they were all "very receptive."

"We're all Minnesotans, whether we have an ‘R' or ‘D' after our name, on this issue," he said.

Cravaack said he was "humbled" when he walked onto the U.S. House floor during an initiation session in Washington for the GOP incoming freshman class two weeks after the Nov. 2 election.

"When I went on the House floor I felt the weight of the office. I will be making some big decisions for Minnesotans and the country," he said.

Cravaack said his first choice of committee assignment would be the Energy and Commerce Committee. "I think I could help mining in that committee, and then dovetail with the aviation subcommittee," he said.

Committee posts will be decided by the end of December.

Cravaack said former Minnesota Republican U.S. Sen. Rod Grams helped him get acquainted with Washington.

Cravaack said he didn't see any "cracks or wedges developing" in the large class of 112 new Republican House members.

He said there needs to be a clear definition of what is an "earmark," which has traditionally been defined as funds allocated for a lawmaker's pet project without proper review.

"We have to stop this process. There must be no more bridges to nowhere. We need to get our infrastructure fixed, but we can't spend money on superfluous things," he said.

Where do bike trails, which were a funding passion of the outgoing congressman, fit?

"It's an issue of priorities. Bike trails are not a priority," he said.

The Naval Academy graduate and former Northwest Airlines pilot said he has yet to get a congratulatory call from Oberstar or receive any help from the incumbent in the transition.

"My concern is with any caseload to provide help for constituents falling through the cracks. And there's no reason to reinvent the loop," he said.

Kent Kaiser: Minnesota and mining are a good mix

Star Tribune
November 25, 2010 

Kent Kaiser: Minnesota and mining are a good mix

Why? Because here we can do it better — and reap the economic benefits.

Minnesota owes it to the world to do more mining here.

The Star Tribune addressed the mining issue — and its importance to the next governor and Department of Natural Resources commissioner — in the recent editorial "Next governor faces tests on mining" (Nov. 17). There is no question that the new DNR commissioner should not be learning about mining on the job. He or she needs to understand that the economic impact domestically, and the environmental impact globally, of mining critical nonferrous metals in Minnesota would be very positive.

In addition to the iron that Minnesota already produces, the state's mineral resource reserves have the potential of providing a domestic supply of nonferrous metals that Americans use every day — nickel, copper, gold, platinum and palladium — in cell phones, computers, catalytic converters, electric cars, wind turbines and medical devices. The domestic and global demand for both ferrous and nonferrous minerals is a given; there is no way to curb demand significantly.

The Labovitz School of Business and Economics at the University of Minnesota Duluth, in 2009, estimated that mining is a nearly $3.2 billion annual economic engine for the state. Yet the school estimates the potential total at $8.7 billion if we expand to nonferrous mining.

The consequences of not mining here, and instead relying on foreign sources, would be detrimental not only to the domestic economy but also to the global environment.

Minnesota has some of the best environmental protections and uses the most advanced mining techniques on Earth, while other nations that supply nonferrous metals (most notably China and Russia) are among the worst environmental offenders.

In terms of the environmental standards that we have in place, the mining industry considers Minnesota one of the most difficult places for development. The review and permitting process is costly and time-consuming. Case in point: For the PolyMet Mining Corp., which was mentioned in the Star Tribune's editorial, the process for a proposed copper and nickel mine near Babbitt has so far cost the company more than $20 million and has taken over five years. Indeed, the stringency of our review process has resulted in delays now pushing estimated commencement of mining to at least 2013.

Moreover, based on our state's recent history with mining, Minnesotans can be confident that the best mining practices will be deployed for operations in our state, using the cleanest processing technology ever seen in the history of mining anywhere in the world. Problems of the past, such as acid run-off, are now well-understood and completely preventable with technology that has been proven elsewhere. Environmental impact can be minimized with modern techniques, such as processing ore with autoclaves instead of smelters, instituting progressive reclamation of mine lands, limiting surface impact and using GPS technology to control mine operations.

That said, we should not discount environmental concerns. The state should consider establishing an umbrella insurance coverage plan — privately administered and funded by the mining companies, not taxpayers –for the unlikely event of a mining catastrophe. We should be confident that the resources will be in place if a problem should arise, especially after a mining operation has ceased to exist and therefore cannot remedy a problem that it has created.

Beyond simply being able to understand mining issues, the new DNR commissioner should be committed to approving new mining activities in our state.

There's actually no better way to act locally and think globally.

Kent Kaiser is a faculty member at Northwestern College in St. Paul and is a Center of the American Experiment senior fellow. Additional information on mining and other natural-resource issues can be found in the center's newly released report containing 24 recommendations for Minnesota's new governor and Legislature. It can be found at http://www.americanexperiment.org/.

Editorial: Next governor faces key tests on mining

Star Tribune
November 16, 2010

DNR, PCA heads shouldn't learn about copper mining on the job.

New copper-nickel mining proposed on Minnesota's Iron Range wasn't a headliner issue in the recent governor's race. But it should become a key agenda item for either Democrat Mark Dayton or Republican Tom Emmer, who are awaiting recount results and laying plans to take over as the state's next CEO.

Two of the new governor's most important decisions will be made early in his term — deciding who will run the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the Pollution Control Agency (PCA). The political appointees serving as these agencies' commissioners will play critical roles in shepherding in a new mining era in Minnesota, one that extracts copper and precious metals instead of iron ore. Called nonferrous mining, the industry has breathtaking potential to help revitalize the state economy, but it brings with it sobering environmental risks.

These two new commissioners will shoulder the serious responsibility of making sure the state does this right — that it manages economic development needs while ensuring the region's streams and lakes are protected from harm for decades, even centuries to come. Acid runoff from exposed rock and tailings is one of the most serious environmental risks.

The world's largest mining firms understandably want to mine the Minnesota Arrowhead. The region is home to some of richest global deposits of copper and other metals that are essential ingredients in cell phones, other electronics and green-energy technology. One firm, Polymet Mining Corp., is deep into the environmental review process and could become operational in 2013, if it gets a permit. The Star Tribune reported on Tuesday that a privately held Swiss mining giant had acquired a stake in the firm. About six other projects are in the exploration stage, including one near Ely pursued by a large Chilean mining conglomerate.

The DNR and the PCA are the two lead state agencies when it comes to the lengthy environmental review and permitting process these operations must go through. The DNR ultimately issues state mining permits. This is a highly complex scientific issue and a volatile one, with long-simmering tensions between pro-jobs forces and environmental advocates.

The new DNR and PCA heads must bring to the jobs far more than the usual political connections. An unusual mix of scientific and political savvy is needed to ensure the integrity of the agencies' processes and to deal fairly with industry and environmental advocates. These commissioners also need to help lead the state's efforts to ensure that the mining firms deliver on their economic development promises.

The scrutiny these commissioners will face will only get more intense as the projects begin the long permit-seeking process. Minnesotans are already asking tough questions. That was clear Monday night at a League of Women Voters forum in Woodbury. The crowd of about 40 people nodded their heads in agreement at the new mines' economic potential, but also probed intensely about paying for any long-term cleanup costs. Jean Rozinka, a 68-year-old Iron Range native now living in the Twin Cities, organized the forum to make sure "we're doing our due diligence" when it comes to mining and protecting the environment. Taking extra care with these two commissioner picks is one of the best measures the next governor can take to ensure that this happens.

PolyMet gets cash from Swiss firm as it works to open Hoyt Lakes mine

Star Tribune
By: David Shaffer
November 15, 2010

Glencore, the privately held Swiss mining giant, will own nearly 15 percent of a company working to develop a copper-nickel mine in northern Minnesota after completing a $30 million private stock placement announced Friday.

PolyMet Mining Corp., a publicly traded exploration firm with its U.S. office in Hoyt Lakes, Minn., said it will sell Glencore 15 million shares of common stock at $2 per share in three $10 million transactions between January 2011 and October 2015. Glencore had held a 6.4 percent stake in PolyMet.

The stock deal, along with a related debt extension, offers PolyMet fresh capital to continue its development work on the proposed $600 million copper-nickel mine, whose most recent delay is related to environmental concerns raised by federal regulators. The mine, once expected to open in 2011, is now projected to begin operation in 2013.

Glencore, which already has financing and marketing deals with PolyMet, also agreed Friday to extend $25 million in existing debentures, plus accrued interest, for two years. Those debentures are convertible to stock at $4 per share, or roughly double the recent price. Glencore gained the right to purchase 3 million more common shares at $2 each until 2016.

PolyMet's earlier plan to raise another $25 million in debt financing from Glencore has been dropped.

'A much stronger deal'

"It is essentially a much stronger deal from that perspective — in that equity as opposed to debt is a good thing," said PolyMet's chief financial officer, Douglas Newby.

PolyMet, based in Richmond, British Columbia, owns the former LTV Steel Mining Co.'s Erie plant in Hoyt Lakes. A proposed copper-nickel mine nearby would employ 400 Minnesota workers.

But the project's possible environmental effects have worried the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and others who commented on a draft environmental study

Those concerns, and issues relating to a land swap with the U.S. Forest Service, are being addressed in a supplemental study with greater EPA involvement.

Newby said the study should be finished next summer. After that, permits and approvals could take another six to nine months, with production now expected in 2013, he added.

Tom Emmer: Reform needed to spur business growth in Minnesota

Duluth News Tribune
October 31, 2010

When I was growing up, I made frequent trips to Duluth and northern Minnesota with my family. We hunted, fished and played hockey. My great-grandfather came to Minnesota in 1907 and founded a company that provided wood products throughout northern Minnesota. Today, my wife, Jacquie, and I regularly visit Duluth to vacation with our kids and for hockey tournaments.

I have spent a lot of time in Duluth and Northeastern Minnesota, visiting with residents, area leaders, business owners, mine workers and operators, students, teachers and concerned citizens.

I am continually impressed and encouraged by the tradition of innovation, entrepreneurship and resiliency found in the people of this region. Generations of hard-working men and women in northern Minnesota grew the region from its humble origins to a land filled with opportunity and success.

Duluth is the hub of the wheat, mining, lumber and transportation industries. And it is the No. 1 port on the Great Lakes.

Just as the region has overcome economic difficulties in the past, it is time once again to ignite job creation, business growth and economic expansion. There are thousands of jobs ready to come back to the Iron Range – if government only got out of the way. PolyMet, Duluth Metals and Franconia are just waiting for the green light to develop. Regulations and permits are standing in the way of thousands of jobs.

I am appalled it has taken five years to approve the PolyMet mine; this is a classic example of government getting in the way instead of rolling out the red carpet to job creators. It's time to reform our regulatory and permitting processes so we can get these projects moving and put people back to work. I will get these mines permitted in an environmentally responsible way, and I will begin on Day One.

Government is good at slowing economic growth but not so good at slowing its own growth.

At a time when our economy is struggling and Minnesota families are forced to tighten their belts, Minnesota government demands a 17 percent increase in spending. That is unacceptable.

My wife and I know how difficult it can be to put food on the table and clothes in the closet while balancing the family budget. We have seven kids. We have to live within our means. Government should live within its means.

As a small-business owner for the past

13 years, I understand the challenges, frustrations and fear Minnesotans are feeling during these challenging economic times. Rising taxes, redundant business mandates and regulations shouldn't undermine the economic success of northern Minnesota.

Duluth and the Iron Range are poised for an economic revival, and government should help, not hurt, that revival. We need reform to encourage a strong business economy to create jobs. Every corner of our state, every industry and every business large and small should be given the opportunity to succeed. By growing jobs and making government live within its means, Minnesota will once again be the best place in the world to live, work and raise a family.

Tom Emmer of Delano is the Republican Party candidate for Minnesota governor.