COMMENTARY: Iron Range legislators: Cross us at your own risk – by Ron Way (Minneapolis Star Tribune – June 22, 2015)

It was outrageous that a few legislators huddled in the dead of night at the end of this year’s legislative session and secretly agreed to slip language into a bill to abolish the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s Citizens’ Board.

But it’s a mistake to think, as too many do, that the board was done in by big agriculture’s concern that the board had reversed a PCA staff decision and required more environmental study of a planned animal feedlot. It’s another mistake to think that Minnesota business interests were finally successful in salving their decades-long pique that the PCA and its board burden business with “overregulation.”

The PCA board has dealt with many controversial ag and business issues ever since it was created in 1967. Ag got its pound of flesh early on when the Legislature required that one member of the nine-member board be a farmer. Business was able to dilute citizens’ power when then-Gov. Arne Carlson made his MPCA commissioner the board’s chair.

What really happened this year was that Iron Range legislators saw an opportunity to send yet another pointed message to everyone in government that there’s a political price for saying or doing anything that even hints of opposition to long-planned copper-nickel mining in northern Minnesota, with the environmentally dangerous sulfates that come with ore extraction.

In the early 1970s a brash Grant Merritt courageously — and successfully — challenged Reserve Mining Co.’s dumping of taconite tailings directly into Lake Superior at Silver Bay. Merritt, the first head of the MPCA, was also prominent in a 1970s plan to explore copper-nickel mining in the Arrowhead, and he properly called public attention to ecological devastation from copper smelting in Sudbury, Ontario. Merritt was out as MPCA commissioner before his first term was over.

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