Mining Dip Should Be Catalyst

Mining Dip Should be Catalyst

We must diversify and also get copper-nickel going


Monday, March 16, 2015 MDN


The past couple weeks have been unsettling ones on the Iron Range.


The announcement by U.S. Steel that it would idle its Keetac taconite plant in Keewatin and layoff 421 workers closely followed word from Magnetation officials that the company’s first of four plants, also in Keewatin, would be shut down, putting 41 employees out of work. Length of the shutdowns is uncertain, but market conditions do not look good for a quick restart. In fact, many people are understandably concerned that there may soon be other layoff dominoes to fall in the region.


Ups and downs in the Iron Range economy are nothing new. It’s a roller coaster that all resource-based areas in the country ride to some degree. But those other areas don’t have two major tools that can be unsheathed on the economy that we possess on the Iron Range to provide a more diverse job sector. And we strongly believe one of those tools needs to be sharpened and put to a more hurried used, while the other one needs to be freed up from regulatory hold as soon as possible.


  • The Iron Range Resources & Rehabilitation Board is unique to Minnesota and the region. There is no other similar agency in any mining area or state anywhere in the country.


So we have an agency, funded solely by money paid by mining companies from taconite production taxes, that was created with a mission of diversifying the economy once the mineral resource was exhausted. That’s a very good thing that reflects outstanding bipartisan vision when the IRRRB was formed by then Republican Gov. Harold Stassen and GOP and Democratic lawmakers more than 70 years ago. We now need more urgency on the Range and in St. Paul to step up economic diversity on the Iron Range to better fulfill the goal of the agency. And that doesn’t mean more IRRRB-funded public works projects. It means more economic development.


  • A new era of mining on the Iron Range is poised to launch, and it will provide hundreds, perhaps thousands of jobs for decades and into the next century


In addition, it will generate the minerals necessary for the next several generations of the green economy while also fueling today’s computer, cell phone and medical device needs well into the future. The PolyMet Mine to be located at the former LTV site near Hoyt Lakes should be under construction at the end of the year and producing cooper/nickel and precious metals sometime in 2016. It has been a long — too long — saga now of more than 10 years of environmental review.


Opponents of copper/nickel mining love the products those minerals help produce (cell phones, computers, iPads, knee and hip replacement devices, wind mills and catalytic converters to name a few) but they hypocritically want to deny the process needed to extract them from the ground. They use scare tactics and untruths to try to stop nonferrous mining. They want people to grow weary through delays after delays. But we much prefer truthfulness and science. And those factors will win out as long as supporters of an economically viable Iron Range continue to fight the good fight and be steadfast in their efforts.


A roller coaster ride can be a blast at an amusement park. But when it comes to the economy of a region, the dips can be no fun.


We have the opportunity to level out the ride on the Iron Range, but it will take good old-fashioned effort and hard work to do so.

Range Mayors Speak Out on Sulfate Issue

Lower Sulfates? The Cost is Just Too High

Star Tribune (Daily)

Mary Hess

March 4, 2015


In response to Marshall Helmberger’s “Iron Range: Why profits over people?” (Feb. 26), the notion that our Iron Range legislative leaders are increasingly focused on enhancing mining company profits, at the expense of the environment and jobs, is totally false and inaccurate. Our elected leaders understand the significant effects that the decision on a wild rice sulfate standard will have on communities across this state.


This is about making sure that the right decision is made and that it is based on unbiased scientific data that clearly lays out what standards need to apply, and where. This decision will be far-reaching and impact this state as a whole, so getting it wrong is not an option.


This is not just a mining issue, as Helmberger would lead people to believe. Enforcing this standard affects many industries and livelihoods. The 10 parts-per-million (ppm) standard, if enforced, would cause a detrimental financial impact to municipalities and businesses across the state.


To make a decision prior to having waterways designated would be overreaching and ill-advised. We mayors strongly support our Range delegation in its effort to require due diligence before such a standard can be enforced, and we stand united behind Rep. Carly Melin’s H.F. 1000 bill.


There is ample scientific evidence showing that sulfate at very high levels (1,600 to 2,500 ppm) does not affect wild rice negatively. The fact is that Minnesota is the only state with a sulfate standard for wild rice. The standard was implemented in 1973 based on some very questionable information from the 1940s and was not applied to any permits for over 30 years. Wild rice farmers actually apply sulfates to enhance the growth of their crops.


The eventual cost of requiring a limit of 10 ppm for water permits has huge implications, not only for our private industry in mining, logging and farming, but for every wastewater treatment plant in the state. The potential costs to taxpayers are in the billions, and the only technology available to reduce emissions to 10 is not only very expensive to implement but is even more expensive to maintain.


Our very way of life is at stake. Our jobs, our schools, our communities and our future depend on the ability for our industry to survive. No one is asking to allow for unnecessary pollutants. The environment and jobs must and do exist together. Our legislative delegation has been fighting for our jobs and way of life for years, and we totally support their efforts to fight the good fight.


Unnecessary and onerous regulations need not be a part of our already-difficult challenge to compete internationally and to keep our people working and living in our communities.


We stand united with our Iron Range delegation.


Mary Hess is mayor of Aurora, Minn. This article was submitted on behalf of the following Minnesota mayors: Andrea Zupancich, Babbitt; Jim Weikum, Biwabik, Mike Jugovich, Chisholm; Chuck Novak, Ely; Bob Vlaisavljevich, Eveleth; Rob Kutsi, Gilbert; Dale Adams, Grand Rapids; Rick Cannata, Hibbing; Mark Skelton, Hoyt Lakes; Gary Skalko, Mountain Iron; Ben DeNucci, Nashwauk; Joshua Carlson, Tower; Larry Cuffe, Virginia.


US Boy Scouts Take Mining Message to Japan

Scouts Take “Mining in Society” to Japan

NMA Mining Week March 4, 2015

In the 10 months since the debut of the Mining in Society Merit Badge, 7,700 Boy Scouts across the nation have earned the badge, which was developed by the Society for Mining, Metallurgy and Engineering. This summer, the success of the merit badge, which gives scouts an introduction to mining and its contributions to modern life, will take it international.

The U.S. contingent to the World Scout Jamboree has chosen to use the Mining in Society theme for its “City of Science” exhibit. Thirty thousand scouts from more than 100 countries are expected to attend the Jamboree to be held in Japan this summer. One highlight of the Mining in Society Jamboree exhibition will be the virtual Mining Atlas, which will take scouts to more than 10,000 mines across the world and bring the merit badge to life.


BWCA Land Exchange Proposed

BWCAW Land Swap Closer to Resolution?

Duluth News Tribune (Daily)

John Myers

March 2, 2015


Decades-old dispute over what to do with state land locked inside the federal Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness may be moving toward at least a partial resolution.


The U.S. Forest Service on Monday announced a proposal that would swap about 30,000 acres of state land inside the BWCAW for an equal value of Superior National Forest land outside the wilderness.


Forest Service officials say they have identified about 39,000 acres of Superior National Forest land that would be appropriate to pick from for the exchange. They’ve set five public meetings to outline the idea.


The process, if it continues to move ahead, still must clear the federal environmental review system, including developing a series of alternatives as well as multiple opportunities for public input.


If the proposal advances and clears both state and federal government hurdles, it would resolve part of the problem left behind when the federal wilderness was created in 1964 and expanded to its current form in 1978.


In all there’s about 86,000 acres of state “school trust” land inside the 1.1 million-acre federal wilderness. That land has been managed as de facto wilderness for decades, with no return to the state.


If the transfer is concluded, the federal government would finally gain control of the land within the BWCAW and the state would have more land to offer to loggers and mining companies hoping for a return to state trust funds that help pay for a small amount of public school costs.


Superior National Forest officials say their plan is to purchase the remaining state acres as federal money is made available.


“We’re looking at internal opportunities for funding as well as other opportunities,’’ said Kris Reichenbach, spokeswoman for the Superior National Forest.


She said state officials support the combination land sale and trade.


Reichenbach said the land swap alone could take up to five years to complete, depending on what level of environmental review is determined necessary. But she said the land trade fits into the forest’s long-term plans by consolidating federal lands in key areas — in this case the BWCAW — and shedding small, remote parcels on the periphery of the national forest.


Many state and local officials have been pushing for the exchange as a means to open up more land to commercial logging and mining outside the BWCAW, especially close to the Iron Range. But environmental groups oppose the exchange, favoring instead a federal buy-out of the state lands to avoid shrinking the overall size of the Superior National Forest.


Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness said Monday that they oppose any land swap until money is appropriated to complete the purchase part of the deal. Many of the parcels of federal land include ecologically valuable lands that would fall into state hands where logging and mining would take precedence over ecology and recreation, the Friends said.


“We are very disappointed that after years of waiting, the federal government is no closer to funding a purchase of the state land in the Boundary Waters,” said Paul Danicic, executive director of the Friends. “The U.S. Forest Service should go back to the drawing board and come back with a solution that doesn’t shrink the Superior National Forest.”


The issue last made headlines in 2012 when the Republican-controlled U.S. House passed legislation allowing all 83,000 acres of state land in the BWCAW to be swapped for federal lands outside. Under pressure from environmentalists, the bill didn’t advance in the Democratic-controlled Senate and died.


A compromise agreement that would have seen about 40 percent of the state land in the BWCAW traded and another 60 percent purchased by the federal government failed to advance in 2012. Several groups came together at that time to forge the compromise deal, including the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, Superior National Forest, environmental and conservation groups. But that deal was quickly discarded by lawmakers who opted for the total land trade.


Some say the school trust fund would be better off with cash for a land sale to the feds, much as nearly all school trust land in the southern half of Minnesota was sold to farmers more than a century ago.


The Forest Service and local counties have been working for years to trade federal parcels for county lands locked in the BWCAW.


State/federal BWCAW land swap


U.S. Forest Service public open house meetings, 4-7 p.m.


March 9: Gunflint Ranger Station, 2020 W. Minnesota Highway 61, Grand Marais


March 10: Laurentian Ranger Station, 318 Forestry Road, Aurora


March 12: Forest Headquarters, 8901 Grand Avenue Place, Duluth


March 23: Kawishiwi Ranger Station, 1393 Minnesota Highway 169, Ely


March 26: Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Headquarters, 500 Lafayette Road, St. Paul


Nolan: PEIS Not Needed

Nolan: PEIS Won’t be Needed

Hibbing Daily Tribune (Daily)

Bill Hanna

Feb. 15, 2015


There will be no far-reaching Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement for Superior National Forest regarding potential copper/nickel/precious metals ventures.


Eighth District Democratic U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan said in a telephone interview on Friday that he has received confirmation from the U.S. Department of Agriculture that a PEIS will not be necessary as requested by some environmentalists.


“It would have been a totally unnecessary layer of government, which has limited resources,” Nolan said.


“…. the Forest Service has no plans to undertake a PEIS of copper nickel mining in the Superior National Forest,” wrote Robert Bonnie, undersecretary of Natural Resources and Environment for the USDA, in a letter to Nolan.


The U.S. Forest Service is an agency under the umbrella of the USDA.


Nolan led the charge in Washington against a PEIS, arguing for some time that it would have been a waste of time, money and energy that would have duplicated what was already being done as far as environmental review for both the PolyMet and Twin Metals nonferrous mining projects.


Minnesota’s U.S. Sens. Al Franken and Amy Klobuchar and Gov. Mark Dayton also said in a Mesabi Daily News story that the PEIS was not needed.


A U.S. Forest Service officials had said that the PEIS request is not delaying either the PolyMet or Twin Metals projects. “We are moving forward on them,” she said.


Bonnie also addressed the PolyMet project in his letter to Nolan.


“I know of particular concern to you is the PolyMet (NorthMet) mining project and land exchange. Please note that progress on the Environmental Impact Statement for the proposed PolyMet (NorthMet) Mining Project and Land Exchange continues to move forward and will not be impacted by considerations related to other mining proposals in the region,” Bonnie’s letter said.


Platinum Group Metals fighting Cancer and Pollution

Platinum Group Metals: Fighting Cancer and Pollution

NMA Mining Week January 28, 2015

NMA’s Minerals Make Life initiative unveiled this week a new infographic on the importance of platinum group metals.

Platinum group metals — six chemically, physically and structurally similar elements that naturally occur together— are some of the world’s most sought-after minerals, prized for their rare, durable and valuable qualities.

Platinum group metals are highly versatile and make significant contributions to daily life. From transportation technology and fuel cell innovations to the most sophisticated medical equipment, platinum group metals are vital resources. In fact, 20 percent of goods manufactured today either contain platinum group metals or require them during production, making these metals essential to nearly every industry.

The new infographic details the many, often surprising places where you can find platinum group metals, from our cell phones and tablets to our cars and even inside the human body. For more information on the daily use of minerals, check out our online toolkit.


Mining: Significant Contributor to Global Ecnomy

New Study Shows Mining Makes a Significant Contribution to Emerging Global Economies

NMA Mining Week January 21, 2015

A new International Council on Mining & Metals (ICMM) report provides a comprehensive picture of how important mining is to global economies, with evidence that the mining and metals industry makes a significant contribution in the most impoverished regions of the world.

The report, “The Role of Mining in National Economies,” outlines the scope, scale, impact and potential of the industry to spur growth and development. Using ICMM’s original composite Mining Contribution Index, it ranks the world’s 214 economies according to the importance of mining and metals. Of the 35 countries listed as most dependent on mining, all but Australia and South Korea are developing countries. Of the top 70, 63 are low-income countries that stand to expand their national economies through the investment, exports, taxes and employment associated with mining.

The research underpins the ICMM members’ priority for fostering sustainable development based on a strong understanding of the role of mining and evidence of what works. Positive impact is best assured by companies working together with governments and communities, using evidence and experience to plan well, and basing strategic decisions on long-term sustainability and the multiplier effects mining can have throughout the economy, the report says.

“The critical focus is not on how mining can be sustainable, but on how mining, minerals and metals can contribute to sustainable development,” the report notes.

The ICMM index also establishes the significance of mining within each national economy. “If mining makes a major contribution to a small economy, national decision-making will be driven by the development opportunities that can flow from the mining and metals industry,” said ICMM President Anthony Hodge. “That is what we need to understand more clearly. This report increases our ability to strengthen the contribution of mining and metals to development.”

Antofagasta Takes Full Ownership of Twin Metals

Chilean Company Takes Full Ownership of Proposed Ely Copper Mine

Pioneer Press (Daily)

Editorial Board

Jan. 22, 2015


A deal giving Chilean-based Antofagasta full ownership of the proposed Twin Metals copper mine near Ely was completed as expected late Tuesday.


Antofagasta, which already owned 40 percent of the underground copper mine, bought out its partner Duluth Metals, which now ceases to exist.


The deal, which was first announced in November, saw Antofagasta pay 45 cents for each share of Duluth Metals.


The Minnesota project will continue to be called Twin Metals, which now becomes a subsidiary of Antofagasta.


Twin Metals last year announced results of a so-called pre-feasibility study that showed the project has vast reserves of copper and other valuable metals and would be profitable.


Antofagasta says it will continue to push the Ely project forward toward the permitting process with state and federal agencies.


“The completion of Duluth acquisition is a positive next step in building the company’s long-term growth pipeline,” Diego Hernandez, Antofagasta CEO, said in a statement released Wednesday morning. “The Duluth complex is an attractive geological deposit and now the pre-feasibility study is complete, we will focus on further optimizations of the project and advance the permitting process.


Mining Industry Merits Our Appreciation

Local View: Mineral Mining Industry Merits Our Appreciation

Duluth News Tribune (Daily)

Alan R. Hodnik

Dec. 29, 2014


The year 1964 was consequential, both in Washington, D.C., and in Minnesota, and looking back 50 years can be fascinating.


Skillful politician that he was, LBJ combined one part JFK emotion and one part mastery of the Senate to pass major civil-rights and wilderness-protection legislation. Both milestone events resulted this year in meaningful retrospective appraisals on these and other pages about the magnitude of their impact.


Also historic in 1964 was Minnesota voters’ overwhelming approval of the Taconite Amendment to the state constitution. The amendment furthered a new mining industry and created the ongoing core of our economy, but its half-century anniversary this year merited barely a whisper of attention.


While Cliffs Natural Resources celebrated the 50-year Eveleth Taconite construction anniversary this past summer, that milestone generated little memorialization from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources or Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board. Nor did the Labovitz School of Business host an economic impact symposium on the legacy of the mining industry. And neither was there any 50-year look-back pro-con mining discussions held at the University of Minnesota Duluth in Cina Hall, named for Aurora native Fred Cina, who co-authored the Taconite Amendment and who finally guided it to passage over a complicated multi-session Minnesota legislative timeframe. There were no calls to Al France, Bob Mars Sr., Sandy Sandbulte or former Sen. Doug Johnson to expound on this historic step that led to sweeping taconite investment and job creation.


Could this oversight have been a result of the withering attack mineral mining has been subjected to in recent times? I think it is more likely reflective of how much we take minerals, and the mining industry that makes them available in our everyday life, for granted.


Over time, the urbanization of America has brought about a reduced sense of “where things come from,” namely farming, tree harvesting, drilling or mining before any “value-added” contribution occurs. There has been much talk about the need for a more-sustainable, clean-energy economy, though very little talk about the minerals required to bring it about. We might drive along in a Prius while failing to recognize where the ferrous and nonferrous minerals that make the car possible come from.


Minnesota Power’s nearly $1 billion, 500-megawatt, carbon-free Bison wind energy farm used  more than 1,000 tons of copper in construction. And large- and small-scale solar mandates recently passed by the Legislature promote an energy source even more copper-intense-per-megawatt-hour than wind. Imagine the amount of copper required to support a metropolitan area blanketed in solar panels.


Some have suggested that, relative to benefits from a mining economy, Duluth has moved on. They suggest that health care, higher education, aviation, and waterfront tourism and trails have ushered in a new economic era for the city, and that the natural resources’ role of our port in regional economic vitality is yesterday’s news.


However, as the 2014 shipping season comes to a close, consider this: Our port averages almost 900 vessel calls each season. Of those 900 vessel calls, each one helping to attract overflow crowds in our restaurants and hotels, more than 85 percent carried taconite or coal. Beyond impressing tourists with 1,000-foot ore carriers, minerals and the mining industry have been the source of high-quality jobs directly and indirectly on the Iron Range as well as here in Duluth at the port and at many mining-supplier businesses.


Despite all of us benefiting from and, in fact, requiring the extraction of minerals, some have suggested that nonferrous mining be done elsewhere, regardless of lax environmental and labor standards in those other places. This is a contradictory position to hold, especially when mining-technology advancements and stricter environmental permitting mean all forms of mining can be done safely here in Minnesota.


How can we demand products essential to energy transition, health care and other aspects of modern life, yet not take the responsibility along with the opportunity of producing the minerals these products require?


Minnesota thoughtfully has led the nation in so many ways over the decades, including being praised recently by EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy for ushering in a clean-energy economy. This is the same Environmental Protection Agency and administrator that gave the PolyMet endeavor an EC-2 rating, the highest rating granted to any U.S. mining initiative over the past 16 years.


Minnesota minerals triggered the industrial age and later forged a defense backbone to overcome Nazism, communism and, in our age, terrorism. Mineral tax revenue also richly continue to facilitate Abraham Lincoln’s “educate-a-nation” vision at our land-grant University of Minnesota system, including UMD.


Fifty years after the Taconite Amendment, mineral-rich Minnesota stands poised to answer a nation’s call to move forward yet again. This time it is a call to transform the country’s energy sector while creating middle-class, nonferrous mining-related jobs that will strengthen our communities and generate new revenue to fund the university and other pressing regional needs without raising our taxes.


The opportunity nonferrous mining now presents for boosting our region’s economy while providing essential components for an emerging new energy world is a reminder of how taconite mining took off in 1964. Mining took off then because government, business and community leaders provided a common vision backed by action in the form of the Taconite Amendment.


While it may be too much to ask that we celebrate 50 years later all mineral mining has meant to the U.S., Minnesota and our region, it is probably not too much to ask that we pause to give the industry the thanks and respect it has earned. The foundation of mining investment, jobs and industry expertise spurred by the Taconite Amendment is alive and well and still providing large, positive returns in our region today.


Thank goodness leaders 50 years ago had the vision and courage to recognize the action needed to create long-term benefits for Northeastern Minnesota and our larger society.


We can only hope the same vision and courage will prevail in our time.


Alan R. Hodnik is chairman, president and CEO of Allete and is a member of PolyMet Mining’s board of directors.


We Can Have Both: Jobs AND Environment

Good Environment, Good Jobs: We Can Have Both

Mesabi Daily News (Daily)

Frank Ongaro

Dec. 20, 2014



The Wall Street Journal recently published an opinion piece about the environmentalist’s Catch-22. The article was reminiscent of the cries we hear in Minnesota for sustainability and for reducing our carbon footprint.


Ironically, these pleas for a greener future forget that we rely on metals to execute this utopian vision. The voices are from the same individuals who frame copper-nickel mining as a dichotomous argument — jobs versus the environment.


But this simply isn’t a fair or accurate portrayal of the issues at hand. We are all environmentalists and we all enjoy the beauty and serenity of Minnesota’s wilderness. Our state has a lot to offer outdoor enthusiasts, and with a population above 3.5 million, there are many people who call Minnesota home who have an interest in protecting the outdoors for future generations.


A majority of these 3.5 million individuals also need jobs — jobs that support their families and provide opportunities for future generations of Minnesotans. Thankfully, we can have both — the environment and mining have coexisted for more than 130 years and with modern technologies, will continue to do so as we expand the state’s rich mining tradition.


Mining copper, nickel, platinum and palladium from one of the world’s largest, untapped source of these strategic metals in Minnesota’s Duluth Complex will provide thousands of high-quality jobs in a range of sectors, as well as the metals we all need for the growing green economy. Wind turbines and solar equipment require copper. Electric cars and rechargeable batteries use nickel and copper. The autocatalysts in cars require platinum and palladium.


The same individuals who espouse a constant mantra against copper-nickel mining, initially paddling a canoe, boarded a 27-foot sailboat to deliver their anti-mining message to this country’s capital. A sailboat filled with metals – from the rails, masts and pulleys to the GPS systems that guided their journey — and kept them safe. Along the way, they communicated their progress with phones and laptops — all of which require strategic metals to operate.


Environmental hypocrisy aside, we all use minerals — 3.03 million pounds in a lifetime to be exact. And yet, even after recycling our scrap metal, the United States is import-dependent on foreign powers for many of these metals. Shipping them in to support our sustainable future from countries that have little to no environmental standards and whose mining practices not only harm local environments, but also the local communities, including young children who are forced to work in substandard conditions.


We have a responsibility to serve as an example to the world of how environmentally responsible mining positively impacts the communities where we live, work and play.


The sustainable technologies we desire to keep society moving forward and progressing are mined. High-quality jobs that sustain families and provide opportunities for children to stay in communities are from mining and spinoff industries. The connection between mining and the modern world is undeniable.


If we want to protect our wilderness for the future, we must value the minerals that allow us to do just that, and continue the innovation that maintains our precious environment.


As environmentalists, we have the responsibility to support actions that fuel the green technologies that will help us continue to save our air, water, and lands for the next generation.



Frank Ongaro is executive director of Mining Minnesota, which is a group working with local citizens, businesses and other organizations to bring growth and job creation to the state through responsible development of natural resources.