Editorial Counterpoint: Buy American? Block Minnesota Mining? Choose One.
Lisa Rudstrom (Feb. 3. 2021)
*Lisa Rudstrom teaches high school physics, chemistry and environmental science at Virginia High School in the newly formed Rock Ridge school district and serves on the board of directors for Better In Our Back Yard.
On Jan. 30, the Star Tribune Editorial Board applauded President Joe Biden’s “Buy American” push (“Biden gets serious on ‘Buy American’ “), welcoming his call for “domestic alternatives” and writing that “the need to protect American-made supplies was made abundantly clear at the outset of the pandemic.”
Twenty-four hours later, in “Renew the push to protect BWCA” (Jan. 31) the Editorial Board contradicted its support for domestic supply chains with a passionate call to turn our backs on a tremendous domestic resource of strategic minerals in northeast Minnesota.
This series of pronouncements was dizzying in its self-contradictions and huge intellectual leaps. As an Iron Ranger and a lifelong science teacher and educator perusing the articles on her lunch break, I struggled to follow the logic.
The proposed Twin Metals copper-nickel mine, located between the cities of Ely and Babbitt, targets a unique deposit that holds 95% of the country’s known domestic nickel reserves, 88% of the cobalt, 75% of the platinum group metals and 34% of copper reserves. These minerals — which can only be mined — are not only key for our national economic security and reducing our overreliance on foreign sources, but they’re also critical to our nation’s transition to a low-carbon future.
The supply chain starts here. We simply can’t power the new green economy without them. Iron mined from northeast Minnesota helped build our country and win wars. Copper and nickel can be the elements that propel our nation into the future.
Now let’s talk about the Editorial Board’s massive leap, trying to tie Biden’s 30 by 30 plan, which aims to conserve 30% of U.S. lands and waters by 2030, to the Twin Metals project. First, the faulty assumption often made by this metro publication and its metro legislators is that if you’re pro-mining and pro-jobs, then you’re anti-environment.
Nothing could be further from the truth, or more insulting to those of us who have lived, worked and played in northern Minnesota for most of our lives. We are all environmentalists. The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCA) is a resource that all of us in my area truly cherish. And yes, we 100% support protecting it.
Here’s the kicker — there are long-established laws and regulatory processes already in place to ensure the BWCA remains untouched and pristine. Those same laws also include built-in state and federal buffer zones around the wilderness for an added measure of protection.
What does this mean? No mine can earn permits without proving that it will meet or exceed all environmental standards through a rigorous, yearslong regulatory review. The Twin Metals project will be evaluated through science and law-based regulatory processes led by multiple state and federal agencies tasked with evaluating environmental impact and standards, as well as social and economic impacts.
Please let me kindly debunk another misperception. The Twin Metals project is not located in the BWCA, despite the rhetoric from anti-mining groups implying otherwise, and sits well outside the state and federal buffer zones designed to protect the wilderness.
At least the Editorial Board for the Duluth News Tribune (“Resist rhetoric, follow process for mining proposals,”) is sensible enough to call out the political maneuverings that seek to seed mistrust in an already established government process: “The politics and overreach have only continued with bills introduced last year and this year in both St. Paul and Washington, D.C., seeking to ban copper-nickel mining outright” they write, adding that this is a “ ’desperate attempt by anti-mining groups to kill an industry.’ ”
This game of attempting to change the rules to prevent an unforeseen future from happening is unnecessary and sets a dangerous precedent for all highly regulated industries, not just mining.
Once we put the rhetoric and the politics aside, we can more clearly see that we’re really vying for the same things — a robust domestic supply chain of critical resources in support of Biden’s Made in America efforts, a transition to a low-carbon economy, sustainable communities, and continued protection for our state’s beloved natural resources. We can have all those things and mine too. Let the science prove it.