Russell Hess: Mining progress will bring jobs, benefits to Minnesota
There is no doubt that we all want to protect the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. It is an undisputed national treasure, and we're fortunate that it is in our own backyard. That said, anyone implying that potential mining activities would destroy this pristine area shows a lack of understanding of the strict existing environmental and regulatory protections at the state and federal levels.
Twin Metals Minnesota, the company for which the federal government denied renewal of its mineral leases, has yet to even propose a project. The federal leases in question have been in place for more than 50 years and have been twice renewed by the federal government without controversy and with acknowledgment that the leases pose no adverse environmental impacts.
Renewal of the leases is necessary for Twin Metals to continue engineering and environmental studies that will inform the eventual project plan submitted to agencies for comprehensive environmental review under state and federal law. To deny renewal of these long-standing leases and to take further action to bar new mineral permits and leases on federally owned lands in northeastern Minnesota are arbitrary actions that ignore long-established federal law and processes for regulating the mining industry.
These federal decisions also deny the public the opportunity to evaluate mining projects on their merits at the appropriate time as outlined in the existing review process. In a recent survey released by Mining Minnesota and Twin Metals Minnesota, 81 percent of survey respondents in northeastern Minnesota agreed that "potential copper‐nickel mining proposals in Minnesota should be allowed to go through the rigorous state and federal environmental review process, and granted permits if environmental protection standards are met."
Copper, nickel and precious metals are used in materials like cellphones, medical devices and cars that make modern life possible. The demand for these minerals means mining will occur, and we have the opportunity to ensure it happens in an environmentally sound manner rather than with less rigorous safety requirements in other countries.
Thankfully, new technologies are available to allow mining and the environment to coexist. Just look at the Eagle Mine in Michigan. The mine has been safely producing copper and nickel in Michigan's Upper Peninsula — an area with a climate very similar to that of Minnesota — since 2014. Between 2011 and 2025, the mine's direct and indirect impact is estimated to generate $4.3 billion for Michigan's economy.
The Eagle Mine project closely parallels the opportunities we have right here in Minnesota to bring an economic boon to our state.
Recent federal decisions hinder the ability for responsible natural resource development to occur in our state and provide much-needed jobs to hardworking men and women. A proposed two-year pause in the process ignores established and lawful processes and the realities of our economy.
Greater Minnesota continues to suffer after the Great Recession.The Blandin Foundation's Rural Pulse Survey found that incomes remain low and there are grave concerns about the vulnerability of the economy. Potential mining projects will bring relief to areas that are hurting and provide family-sustaining careers in a variety of industries.
Mining projects will generate thousands of jobs once operational and each job in the mining industry creates approximately two additional positions in spinoff industries, according to a study conducted by the Labovitz School of Business and Economics at the University of Minnesota Duluth.
We're already benefitting from copper-nickel mining projects under development in Minnesota. For example, PolyMet Mining has invested more than $200 million in its project since 2006 and Twin Metals Minnesota has invested more than $400 million since 2010. These investments are creating real jobs today for Minnesotans and supporting the growth of our state's economy.
We cannot be afraid of progress. We cannot ignore the law or the will of the people. We must not applaud recent decisions by the federal government. We need to allow responsible companies to follow a predictable review process, because it works.
Russell Hess, of Plainview , is political coordinator of the Laborers District Council of Minnesota and North Dakota and a board member of Jobs for Minnesotans.