Just as steel made from Minnesota’s iron ore powered the U.S. military to victory during World War II, supporters of copper-nickel mining in the state say the industry could help defeat another global challenge: the climate crisis.
Demand is on the rise for renewable energy and electric cars that rely on copper, nickel, cobalt and other metals. And as the world continues to transition away from fossil fuels, the need for those minerals will only continue to grow.
In August, Gov. Tim Walz told MinnPost the state should allow mining if it expects to reach a carbon-free future. “There’s 5.5 tons of copper in every megawatt of solar, and it comes from somewhere,” he said.
That argument has grown popular with Twin Metals Minnesota and PolyMet Mining, which hope to build the state’s first copper-nickel mines, as well as their political allies. It’s often used to ease concerns that a boom in so-called sulfide mining could pollute Lake Superior and the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCA) with toxic mine waste and acidic runoff.
Yet the clean energy case has not won over ardent skeptics of copper-nickel mining in the state. Environmental groups say a focus on recycling and mining in more favorable environments can ensure an energy transition without risk of water pollution in Minnesota. Some have accused mining companies of being insincere to say they’re helping fight climate change when they have not advocated for clean energy policy at the Legislature.