Norm Coleman: Dayton pulls an ‘Obama’ in denying mineral leases
His unilateral decision on Twin Metals project skirts due process.
By Norm Coleman MAY 5, 2016 — 5:59PM
Gov. Mark Dayton and President Obama have more in common than simply being liberal politicians.
Both are taken with the belief that they are allowed to act solely upon their personal beliefs and opinions.
In the case of Obama, if he wants something done his way, he doesn’t follow the process envisioned by our founding fathers. He simply issues an executive order.
Dayton has become partial to exercising his own version of an executive order.
Most recently, it was Dayton’s unilateral decision to block access to state lands and deny future mineral leases to Twin Metals Minnesota.
Twin Metals Minnesota is working to develop an underground copper-nickel mine between the cities of Babbitt and Ely to expand economic growth and opportunity in one of the most economically challenged regions of the state. Twin Metals Minnesota is trying to create jobs.
How many jobs?
It is estimated that the Twin Metals Minnesota project will create about 850 full-time jobs when in operation and that it will generate nearly 12 million labor hours during a three-year construction period — plus another 1,700 to 1,900 additional indirect jobs.
Dayton, in blocking this effort, destroys jobs. It is as simple and as pure as any of the groundwaters of Minnesota we all seek to protect and preserve.
It is that commitment to protecting Minnesota’s natural resources that defines the process that Twin Metals Minnesota has followed in its efforts to create jobs in the mining industry.
Our own Minnesota founders made it clear that the state’s natural resources exist to be responsibly used for the benefit of all of our citizens.
In fact, under our state’s Constitution, specifically Article XI, Section 8, royalties generated from the extraction of our abundant minerals on state trust-fund lands are dedicated to a fund to support every school district in Minnesota.
Minnesota has developed one of the nation’s most rigorous environmental-review processes and permitting standards in order to ensure that extraction of minerals does not come at the expense of the environment. Minnesotans rightly expect our Department of Natural Resources to deny permits for projects that pose a danger to the environment, and to permit projects that meet our standards, after a rigorous review of the project’s impacts on the environment and the community.
But the governor doesn’t want that process even to happen. He intends to pull an Obama and violate both the spirit, and perhaps even the letter, of the law.
His personal opinion is now more important than the process and the law.
Twin Metals Minnesota is being arbitrarily denied even the opportunity to prove its viability through Minnesota processes that were created to responsibly uphold the state’s mandate to support the exploration and extraction of mineral resources.
Due process denied.
I understand the governor’s devotion to environmental extremist groups that seek to stop all mineral development regardless of its impact on the hardworking families of northeastern Minnesota. It’s easier to be a hero to them than it is to be an advocate for Twin Metals Minnesota.
But nobody asked the governor to be an advocate for Twin Metals Minnesota — or for any other company seeking to follow the rigorous environmental-review process we should all support before permits are ever issued.
Minnesotans, regardless of where they stand on these issues, simply want the governor to enforce a consistent set of rules.
The governor communicates to companies seeking to do business in Minnesota that finding yourself on the wrong end of his personal ideological agenda may be a one-way ticket to denial of your business opportunity.
The governor has an obligation to let the process for Twin Metals Minnesota — or for any company that must comport to an environmental-review process — play itself out without interference or undue influence.
In the case of Twin Metals Minnesota, his failure to do so doesn’t just undermine economic opportunity for northeastern Minnesota families, but it also jeopardizes a potential financial windfall for Minnesota schools, students and families throughout the state.
The only winner in this losing hand the governor has decided to play are those who would deprive Minnesotans of economic opportunity and jobs in the name of political correctness and environmental extremism.
Norm Coleman is a former U.S. senator from Minnesota
One surprise of the current, tumultuous presidential election cycle is the degree to which manufacturing has emerged as a significant campaign issue. Candidates are now openly pledging to oppose trade agreements perceived as hurting the nation’s manufacturers. And while trade policy is only one aspect of the overall debate, it’s clear candidates are recognizing manufacturing’s importance to America’s economy.
A quick glance at the nation’s industrial landscape tells a profound story: America has lost more than 5 million manufacturing jobs since 2000 with more than 50,000 factories closed. Several factors are involved, but one critical aspect remains overlooked: the connection between America’s mining industry and the health of the nation’s manufacturing base.
Metals and minerals are integral to the American standard of living. Thanks to not-so-small luxuries like cars, homes, roads and electronics, young Americans today will depend in their lifetimes on an estimated 27,416 pounds of iron ore, 978 pounds of copper, 521 pounds of zinc, and 1.8 ounces of gold. And then there are the industries of tomorrow. For example, one wind turbine requires 8,000 pounds of copper. A hybrid car requires nine pounds of nickel, and the average electric vehicle battery contains nine pounds of lithium.
All of this means mining, and the countries that produce these minerals and metals will reap the benefits in terms of jobs and economic growth. In 2012, U.S. mines directly employed more than 630,000 workers, with wages totaling $46 billion. The estimated value of mine production in 2015 exceeded $78.3 billion. America’s miners are busily extracting everything from copper, zinc and gold to silver, nickel and iron, the very raw materials used by the nation’s manufacturers to produce auto parts, high-tech appliances, industrial machinery and steel.
Unfortunately, America’s mining industry is not living up to its full potential. New mining operations are being artificially constrained by a duplicative and drawn-out mine permitting process. The result is a troubling delay in the opening of new mines and longer wait times when manufacturers require key metals and minerals.
In fact, shortages of metals have become an important issue for America’s manufacturing executives; in a 2014 survey, 90 percent of them expressed concern about obtaining needed minerals in a timely fashion.
Procuring domestic metals and other raw materials for U.S. factories should be a simple matter. After all, the United States possesses mineral wealth worth an estimated $6.2 trillion. But, despite this vast capacity, the United States was forced to import roughly $32 billion worth of processed minerals in 2015. It’s a stunning level of dependency, with America now heavily import-dependent for 43 key minerals.
This is where Washington is finally getting involved. The current U.S. mine permitting process can take roughly a decade to complete, thanks to lengthy paperwork requirements and redundancy. In contrast, mine permitting in countries like Australia and Canada, which maintain comparable environmental standards, takes only two to three years.
This sort of protracted permit process may sound familiar to some Minnesota residents. That’s because delays in mine permitting have long blocked work at PolyMet’s planned copper-nickel mine. The environmental review process for PolyMet took more than a decade, and the project is only now moving toward applying for the various federal, state and local permits needed to begin construction. In the interim, decade-long delays for mine permitting can reduce a mine site’s value by half before operations even commence.
Imagine if America’s mine permitting process could be reduced to a very reasonable two years, thus helping the nation’s factories enjoy more timely access to important metals like iron, gold and nickel. Faster permitting could allow U.S. mines to potentially replace half of current mineral imports, reducing the minerals trade deficit by $16 billion annually and increasing mining employment by about 125,000 workers. Expanding America’s mining work also would grow jobs in manufacturing sectors that currently produce mining equipment and supplies.
Fortunately, the Senate recognizes the inefficiency of the situation and recently passed Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s energy legislation. The Alaska Republican’s measure includes a provision to improve access to minerals critical to the sustained success of the manufacturing industry.
If Washington is serious about aiding the nation’s manufacturers, the time has come for Congress to deliver legislation to the president that reforms America’s antiquated mine permitting process and revitalizes two industries that have long supported the nation’s middle class
RAMS Opposes McCollum Anti Mining Bill
Group opposes bill to rule federal land in Rainy River off limits for mining
Posted: Friday, April 29, 2016 8:59 pm
BILL HANNA Executive Editor Mesabi Daily News
MOUNTAIN IRON — The Range Association of Municipalities and Schools has passed two resolutions on issues critical to the Iron Range.
One resolution opposes a bill by Democratic Minnesota Congresswoman Betty McCollum that would basically rule federal land in the Rainy River Watershed and Basin off limits for exploration and mining of minerals.
The other resolution supports Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk’s legislation to return the Iron Range Resources & Rehabilitation Board to advisory to the commissioner and governor, which would fix a constitutional problem cited in a report by the Office of the Legislative Auditor.
Both resolutions were unanimously passed at the RAMS meeting on Thursday.
McCollum’s bill would require all federal land within the Rainy River Drainage Basin to be withdrawn “from all forms of entry, appropriation, or disposal under the public land laws, location, and entry under the mining laws, and operation of the mineral leasing laws.”
The RAMS board said, in essence, this would prohibit accessing any of the precious metals found in the Duluth Complex or anywhere else in northeastern Minnesota.
Bakk’s bill would still allow the IRRR Board to approve the budget, including grant and loan allocations. But it would require that the commissioner be the final arbiter on those budget decisions, which would put the IRRRB on par with other state agencies.
The IRRR Board had served an advisory role until 1995 when former DFL Rep. Tom Rukavina, who was also a board member, slipped through legislation that gave the board complete control of spending.
Nolan: Interior not plotting to ban mining near BWCAW
Jewell on Tuesday listed the BWCAW with two federal areas in western states where federal drilling permits have been revoked by the Obama administration, saying that there are some places so special that development should not be allowed to impact them.
That speech set off anger among supporters of the Twin Metals copper mine proposed near Ely — on the edge of the BWCAW but outside the wilderness — that Jewell was pushing a de facto moratorium on mining in the BWCAW watershed, called the Rainy River watershed.
Indeed, the Bureau of Land Management is considering whether to renew mining permits that are critical for the Twin Metals project. Jewell oversees the BLM.
But on Friday Nolan, DFL-Crosby, who represents all of Northeastern Minnesota, including the Iron Range, said he conferred with White House officials this week and hosted a meeting with BLM Deputy Director Linda Lance to discuss the status of the agency’s review of the Twin Metals leases specifically and mining in the Rainy River watershed in general. Nolan said the meeting was to “obtain greater clarity on the timelines and scope of environmental review and actions.”
Local elected officials also attended the meeting, including members of the Range Association of Municipalities and Schools which supports the Twin Metals project to increase tax base in the region.
The group talked about Jewell’s comments Tuesday that her department should “re-examine whether decisions made in prior administrations properly considered where it makes sense to develop and where it doesn’t,” specifically citing the Boundary Waters in Minnesota and implying action by President Obama under the Antiquities Act that would ban mining in the entire Rainy River watershed, which includes a large portion of Minnesota’s Iron Range.
Copper mining supporters “were alarmed by Secretary Jewell’s statement,” Nolan said. “In addition to assurances from the White House that they were unaware of any such action being contemplated in the White House, Deputy BLM Director Lance told us that she was not aware of any such plans, despite recent statements by Interior Secretary Jewell seeming to indicate otherwise.”
Nolan said he was also assured he would be told if the agency develops such a plan.
“With the BLM and Department of Interior being lobbied so hard by a variety of forces to stop mining, it was very important for this agency to hear from our Range officials about the importance of mining not only to the Iron Range, but also to our national economy and national security,” Nolan said.
Steve Giorgi, RAMS executive director, said the group was “satisfied that our message was delivered on the subject of federal mineral leases in the Rainy River Watershed Basin and we will continue to spread that message with Senators Franken and Klobuchar as well as with other members of the Minnesota congressional delegation.”
Lance told the Minnesota group that the BLM is working closely with the U.S. Forest Service to determine the next steps in the environmental review process. Nolan expects to meet with additional high-ranking administration officials in the near future and similarly urge them to let the process play out without undue political interference.
Iron Rangers attending the meeting included Babbitt Mayor Andrea Zupancic, Hoyt Lakes Mayor Mark Skelton, Ely Mayor Chuck Novak, Aurora councilor Dave Lislegard and Nancy Norr, director of regional development for Minnesota Power
Interior tests the Boundary Waters
Posted: Thursday, April 21, 2016 8:59 pm
Nolan calls reassessment by Obama administration ‘very disturbing’ for 1978 BWCA Act
WASHINGTON — In a speech on Tuesday that touched on issues ranging from national parks to global warming, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell casually tossed in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness as a reason to look back and reassess previous decisions on federal lands and waters.
That has triggered some major concerns that the 1978 BWCA Act that crafted a deal for multi-use in areas of the wilderness area is now open to alterations.
“It’s clear that the Obama administration is clearing the way for a withdrawal action and seems they’ve made their decision based on Twin Cities’ environmental elitists,” said Frank Ongaro, executive director of Mining Minnesota, an advocacy group for non-ferrous mining on the Iron Range.
“It’s disturbing … very disturbing,” said Democratic 8th District U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan.
The speech is touted on the Interior Department website as Jewell discussing “…. the need for a course correction in the way America conserves our public lands, waters and wildlife.”
This is how Jewell references the Boundary Waters:
“We also have work left to re-examine whether decisions made in prior administrations properly considered where it makes sense to develop and where it doesn’t. Or where science is helping us better understand the value of the land and water and the potential impacts of development.
“Places like in Montana or the Boundary Waters in Minnesota or the Rome Plateau in Colorado. These are special areas, and I look forward to making progress on them this year.”
“Seems clear that Secretary Jewell is taking aim at the multi-use land management principle that was foundation of the deal struck with northern Minnesota communities by Congress in the 1978 Boundary Waters Act, and is prepared to contradict that deal under the guise of it being a bad decision, or that there is new science,” Ongaro said.
Democratic U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, responding to an email request for comment from the Mesabi Daily News, said Jewell should not be making policy statements in this manner.
“Decisions on mining projects should be made based on the facts, science, and through the existing environmental review process, not based on offhanded comments in a speech,” she said.
Sen. Al Franken was less direct.
“Mining, as well as environmental stewardship, are long-standing traditions in Northern Minnesota — an area home to both the Iron Range and the pristine Boundary Waters Canoe Area,” Franken said.
“Right now, any proposed mining operation has to go through a rigorous environmental review. If at some point the federal government proposes a change to its process, I would have to take a very close look at the details to make sure that both economic and environmental factors are given due consideration.”
DFL Gov. Mark Dayton had reached out to the Bureau of Land Management a few weeks ago requesting the agency not renew current lease holdings of Twin Metals Minnesota in the BWCAW watershed.
Dayton press secretary Matt Swenson told the MDN that the governor had not been in contact with Secretary Jewell prior to her comments that included mention of the Boundary Waters.
“If they seek to withdraw there would be an immediate moratorium for two years while an analysis is done and that could take up to 20 years. This would stop everything immediately,” Ongaro said.
Nolan has been in contact with the White House and the BLM and said he was “assured” by White House officials that there is nothing on a Boundary Waters change in the works.
He was also told by BLM officials that he would be alerted in advance of any policy change.
AURORA — Those in the media and opponents of the PolyMet copper/nickel/precious metals project who continue to say the Iron Range is split in opinion on the venture should have a different assessment if they attended Tuesday’s public hearing on the permitting process.
The overwhelming majority of the estimated 450 people attending the hearing wore their support for what will be the state’s first copper/nickel/precious metals mine on their garments, with stickers backing PolyMet.
And the gathering at the Mesabi East School in Aurora was also noticeable for its lack of nonferrous mining opponents, with only a handful present.
“I am exceptionally pleased to get to the permitting process,” said PolyMet CEO Jon Cherry. “We’re now one step closer.”
The meeting was hosted by the Department of Natural Resources and is a required part of the permitting process.
It was simply an informational meeting, yet supporters showed up in force.
Cherry said the company is close to submitting applications for the various permits needed for construction and then production. He said once that step is taken, the company will be better positioned to issue a timetable for construction and startup.
“We want to make sure the applications are absolutely solid. It should be within the next few weeks,” Cherry said.
There has already been more than 10 years of environmental review for the venture.
The PolyMet mine and processing plant will create 350 permanent jobs, hundreds more indirect positions and more than 2 million hours of construction.
Mayors Mark Skelton and Mary Hess of Aurora left and walked from the Mesabi East School together, with Skelton to get some rest before traveling to Washington, D. C., today as part of a Range Association of Municipalities and Schools meeting to register with federal officials the region’s support for mining.
“You wouldn’t think we’d have to fight this hard to save the area. But we will,” Skelton said while loading pro-mining placards into his vehicle.
“It’s important we continue showing support for PolyMet,” Skelton said.
And they did.
In blocking Twin Metals’ leases, Dayton rules by fiat
Governor’s decision runs contrary to the Constitution and DNR, and sends a chilling message to all businesses.
By Kate Lehman April 13, 2016 — Star Tribune
Suppose you’ve decided to open a restaurant and have gone about planning your business according to all of the rules and regulations, building and health codes, and employment laws. You’re cooperating and consulting with various state and local agencies, following all of the requirements, and you have a commitment to making sure it’s done right. And you’re bankrolling all of this — a tidy sum. But then, before you can even order a stove, the governor tells you that you cannot open the restaurant — not because you’re in violation of any existing rule, but because he doesn’t think the restaurant is a good idea.
And then, the governor calls federal authorities — say, OSHA, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration — and says that your restaurant should not be allowed to open because he thinks it’s a bad idea. And there you are, stuck. There is no process to correct a problem, because nothing is “wrong.”
This is exactly what Gov. Mark Dayton has done by denying Twin Metals Minnesota access to state lands in order to conduct additional environmental and technical research and by lobbying the federal government to deny federal mineral lease renewals.
Never mind that the company already holds several state mineral leases in the area, some of which date to 1988. Never mind that the Twin Metals project is years from having a plan to submit for permitting. And never mind that the project already has invested $350 million in research and planning — much of it spent with local workers and vendors, as well as for mineral and land leases with the state, private parties and the federal government.
Twin Metals Minnesota is not alone among mining exploration companies concerned about Dayton’s rule by fiat. Large and small companies are exploring for mineral deposits that may expand and enhance Minnesota’s long-standing mining industry. The state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) actively solicits companies to lease state-owned minerals in northeastern Minnesota. The form and rate structure of these leases are set by the Legislature.
Thousands of acres of metallic mineral leases have been granted since 1966, while exploration work for metallic minerals has been conducted for decades. There is yet to be an operating nonferrous mine in Minnesota, yet the leasing, exploration and research work alone have resulted in hundreds of millions of dollars of expenditures.
A recent lease sale of nearly 16,000 acres included companies exploring for gold and other platinum group metals. All leaseholders must adhere to regulations governing exploration and mining activities. Among other areas, they leased acreage in the Rainy River watershed. Lease approval was granted by the Minnesota Executive Council on March 2, just four days before Dayton overruled his own DNR’s plan for the Twin Metals access.
The DNR is acting in accordance with the state Constitution and state law to use natural resources for the benefit of the citizens, especially to generate income for the school trust funds. Dayton’s position is contrary to the Constitution, statute and the Executive Council. The governor’s edict undermines the work of the DNR and sends a chilling message to all mining exploration companies interested in working in the state. Rather than base decisions on research, scientific fact and compliance with regulations established by law, the governor has unilaterally decided that this particular project is a “bad idea” for the state and the country. He has removed the decision from the regulatory process and out of the hands of Minnesotans. He is denying us research that may lead to a significantly better understanding of the watersheds and that may lead to technological advances.
Minnesotans must recognize that the chill isn’t going to be limited to mining. If the governor can ignore the rules and process for the orderly development of mineral resources, what prevents him from deciding he doesn’t like the idea of another business?
Businesses of all types need reliable regulations. Selective and inconsistent enforcement creates an increasingly uncertain environment. Minnesota already has obstacles to attracting businesses; Dayton’s failure to follow the state’s own rules adds another impossibly high hurdle.
Kate Lehmann is the chief financial officer of Vermillion Gold Inc. and Beaver Bay Inc., Minnesota-based nonferrous minerals exploration companies. Beaver Bay owns a minority interest in the Twin Metals project.
U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan on Tuesday told a convention of mining executives that Minnesota can have both mining and a clean environment, and that he’s working to make sure copper mining happens in the state.
Nolan, D-Crosby, who represents Northeastern Minnesota’s Iron Range, was the opening speaker at the annual convention of the Society for Mining, Metallurgy and Exploration Minnesota Section at the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center.
Nolan focused on the convention’s theme of how global economics are affecting both Minnesota’s longstanding iron mining industry and fledgling copper mining prospects — including foreign competition, global overcapacity and low prices.
But he also criticized opponents of potential copper mining projects — projects such as PolyMet and Twin Metals — for ignoring technological innovations that can mitigate mining’s environmental footprint.
“The challenges are great. But the opportunities for mining (in Minnesota) are even greater,” Nolan said.
Nolan chided environmental activists for saying mining is incompatible with northern Minnesota’s pristine lakes and woods. But he also reminded the business leaders that it was their counterparts in industry in the 1970s who said U.S. businesses couldn’t afford pollution regulations to clean up air and water. He reminded the mining crowd of how Duluthians were drinking bottled water for fear of cancer-causing fibers in Lake Superior from dumped taconite iron ore tailings at Reserve Mining in Silver Bay.
But the regulations came, the air and water got cleaner, and most businesses thrived, Nolan said.
“And it’s a hell of a lot better than it was” 40 years ago, Nolan said.
Industry’s sky-is-falling concerns were not warranted then much like environmental warnings of catastrophe are not warranted now, Nolan said to friendly applause
“They’re saying we can’t have mining because it hurts the environment,” Nolan said. “It takes courage to stand up and say, no, we can do both… we’re going to have both” copper mining and a clean environment in Minnesota.
Nolan took a shot at critics of the proposed Twin Metals project and its proximity to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. Those critics include Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton, who last month said he opposes the Twin Metals project near Ely because it is too close to the BWCAW.
Nolan said the 1970s agreement creating the federal wilderness set aside 1.9 million acres of land for no mining but allowed for logging, mining and motorized use outside the formal wilderness.
“A deal is a deal,” Nolan said.
Nolan said he intervened to get multiple regulatory agencies and PolyMet together for regular meetings that helped spur the completion of the environmental review process for that project.
“We got them all moving” Nolan said, adding that completion of the environmental review was a huge step toward an operating copper mine.
Company officials said Tuesday that they are now preparing applications for the two dozen state and federal permits needed before any construction can begin on the project near Hoyt Lakes, what would be Minnesota’s first copper mine and processing center.
Brad Moore, PolyMet’s executive vice president for government and regulatory affairs, said the company will submit nearly all those permit applications to regulatory agencies by the end of June.
The DNR is holding a public informational meeting ahead of the permit applications next Tuesday in Aurora.
On iron ore issues, Nolan said efforts by Minnesota’s congressional delegation to get the White House involved in ongoing trade issues with steel-producing nations have helped reduce the glut of cheap, foreign steel being dumped into the U.S. That glut of steel had reduced demand for U.S.-made steel and for the basic raw material that goes into it — Minnesota taconite iron ore.
Pressing unfair trade cases and Obama administration enforcement of the trade rulings “is starting to produce good results,” Nolan said, noting the price of iron ore is up from its December low and that at least one shuttered Minnesota operation, Northshore Mining, is set to reopen in May to provide more taconite pellets to U.S. steel mills.
Hundreds of geologists and mining company officials are gathered for the annual convention which runs through Wednesday in Duluth.