Minnesota Can Provide the Greenest Metals As Well As Jobs

The Pilot Independent (Weekly)

Dean Morrill

July 31, 2013

While Gov. Mark Dayton was out of state trying to bring jobs to Minnesota, three representatives from Jobs For Minnesotans were in Walker last week touting the strategic metals that are just waiting to be mined in northeast Minnesota.   

Christopher Tiedeman and Mike Franklin of Weber Johnson Public Affairs, located in St. Paul, and Jason George, the Legislative and Political director of International Union of Operating Engineers in Minneapolis, said thousands of jobs will be created by mining these metals.

Northeast Minnesota has one of the largest untapped sources of copper, nickel, platinum, palladium, cobalt and gold in the world.

By safely extracting these mineral resources, Franklin said it would bring long-lasting jobs for generations of working Minnesotans, and can significantly increase jobs and economic development for the entire state.

According to its website, Jobs for Minnesotans works together through this coalition, business and labor and hopes to inform Minnesotans about the enormous opportunity to revitalizing the economy of the area. Coalition members include the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce and Minnesota Building and Construction Trades Council, to name a few.

“We’ve known they were in the ground for about four years, maybe even longer, but it’s not been economically feasible to get them. Not only because of the world prices … but the technology. The technology is cheaper now and the metals are worth a lot more than they use to be,” Franklin said. “We use an inordinant amount of these materials today where we didn’t in the past, and so we’ve got to get them from somewhere. And since the metals are there in Minnesota and we know how to mine here, we think it makes a lot of sense to do it because of the economic activity it would generate.”

Strategic metals can be used for cell phones to the highest tech fighter aircrafts in the world.

Franklin said there are huge deposits of metals underground in the area.

The project is currently in the permit process, where several metal companies are going through the stages. If all goes well, mining could start in less than two years.

Several federal and state agencies are involved in the permit process, including the EPA, U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.

“A lot of environmental concerns are being raised, but they are largely using evidence from old mines before we had these laws in place,” Franklin stated. “Since 1990 no sites have been place on the CERCLA (Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act), or the Superfund list.”

Tiedeman said none of these mines are going to operate unless they meet the ‘Good Housekeeping seal of approval’ from the DNR.

“Our folks are the ones who are going to be digging these mines. Our union is 13,000 people — heavy equipment, bulldozers, cranes, backhoe operators — people who are going to go in there with the heavy equipment and really dig this thing out and will operate afterwards as well,” George added.

This is a state-wide asset, he continued, because it will touch communities from International Falls to the Iowa border.

“Our folks go where the work is. Mobilization and travel is just something that they do,” he said. “People from all over the state will come to work on this. Most of the people will be local, but there will be people from this side of Minnesota who do work on these projects.”

These are high-paying jobs. Mining and quarries are the second highest paid category in the nation, only behind management of companies, according the DEED Quarterly Workforce, outpacing the average industry job by more than $30,000 per year.

Mining has the highest wage growth of any industry in Minnesota, George added.

A 2009 study from the University of Minnesota-Duluth that was refreshed this year, shows that for every job created by the mining industry, another 1.6 jobs are created elsewhere in the economy.

As these projects become operational, positions will be available for drillers, engineers, miners, safety and wellness coordinators and more.

A 2012 study by the University of Minnesota Duluth found that for every job in the mining industry, these projects will create 1.8 spin-off jobs in other industries.

In addition to supplying thousands of permanent career positions to generations of Minnesotans, strategic metals will bring new investments in education as well as millions of dollars in tax revenues. These tax revenues will support government and public services, benefiting future generations of talented, hardworking Minnesotans. In fact, the DNR estimates that current strategic metals mining projects will generate more than $2 billion for the Minnesota Permanent School Trust Fund, providing revenue for every school district in Minnesota.

Environmental concerns have already been brought up, but both Franklin and George were quick to state standards will be exceeded to make sure this is not only safely but clean for all Minnesotans.

“To suggest that we can’t do it sort of ignores the fact that we’ve been mining for 130 years in Minnesota, and we still have clean water and clean air,” Franklin said.

Of the 13,000 people who belong to the union that George represents, only 100 live in the Twin Cities area.

“Our members live where these projects take place. They’re comfortable with the environmental process and regulations, because they know how careful they are when they’re digging it out, when they’re building the projects according to environmental standards. So they’re comfortable living in their communities, because they know,” George said. “The folks who are raising the issues don’t know, in general terms.”

The next step in the process is for the Jobs For Minnesotans coalition is to continue to get the message out, because this could be transformational for the Minnesota economy, and, according to the coalition, will not hurt the environment because of all the regulations and permits that have been in place and must be followed.

Thursday, they attended the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities conference in Bemidji and also met with the Bemidji Pioneer as they start their educational campaign as they tour the state.

Top metal mining states

Minnesota ranks No. 3 among top metal mining states in the United States.

But with these new mines, there is no other state that has mineral deposits similar to those in Minnesota.

The US Geological Survey lists Minnesota metal resources as 99 percent for nickel, 88 percent for cobalt, 51 percent for platinum, 48 percent for palladium, 40 percent for manganese, 34 percent for copper, 30 percent for titanium, 11 percent for silver and 3 percent for gold.

There is no current domestic source of nickel in the United States. If these projects are permitted, one of them would be the second-largest in the world.

Copper in the U.S. is used mainly in construction (45 percent) and electric equipment (23 percent). In 2012, the nation produced 65 percent of the copper it used, relying on imports from Chile, Canada, Peru, and Mexico for the remaining.

A single 3MW wind turbine needs 4.7 tons of copper.

What is Jobs For Minnesotans?

Jobs for Minnesotans is a coalition of organizations brought together and committed to advancing one common goal: job creation in Minnesota. Their purpose is three-fold.

• To create an additional base of public support for job creation opportunities in Minnesota, specifically allowing policy-makers to better support the strategic metals mining projects and aid in the permitting process. This includes state lawmakers and administration officials, as well as local and federal elected officials.

• To energize, coordinate and mobilize the base of support for the clear job creation opportunity in front of Minnesota, including members of organized labor, lawmakers, the business community statewide and members of all political parties who support economic development.

• To increase the understanding of the uses of these metals in everyday lives, the necessity of strategic metals for emerging green industries such as wind and solar generation and green can manufacturing, and to educate citizens about increasing dependency on foreign countries for a significant percentage of strategic metals.

Jobs for Minnesotans was co-founded by the Minnesota Building and Construction Trades Council and the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce. It consists of organizations who represent real, every day Minnesotans: businesses, middle class workers, labor and local governments among others.