A bill that would ban copper-nickel mining on a huge swath of federal land near the Boundary Waters got its first hearing in Congress Wednesday in Washington.
But the fight over the legislation — and what it stands for — got underway on Minnesota’s Iron Range last week, in a packed union hall in the city of Virginia. “I am tired of the Iron Range having to endure these attacks on our way of life,” Pete Stauber, the Republican congressman who represents the region, told the crowd.
When Stauber says “our way of life,” he means mining. Iron ore mines have operated for well over a century in northeastern Minnesota. There are fourth-generation miners working there today, descendants of immigrants who mined the ore that made the steel that helped win world wars.
Three times Stauber repeated versions of the same promise to the gathering of local elected officials, union members and other mining advocates: “I am going to fight this week in Congress like I’ve never fought before, against this legislation.”
Steve Giorgi, director of the Range Association of Municipalities and Schools, led the event. He channeled the late state Rep. Tom Rukavina, DFL-Virginia, a staunch defender of the region’s mining heritage, saying the Range needs more high-paying mining jobs, not just the outdoor tourism jobs that have built up in recent years.