This town’s mining battle reveals the contentious path to a cleaner future – by James Temple (MIT Technology Review – January 23, 2024)

The world needs to dig up far more minerals to meet climate goals. But mining poses environmental dangers that are bitterly dividing communities.

Minnesota’s Highway 210 threads through the tiny towns of Aitkin County, a poor and sparsely populated stretch of forests, lakes, and wetlands that reaches just into the northeastern corner of the state. A short drive off the highway, due south past the Tamarack Church, delivers you to Jackson’s Hole, the last remaining business in the unincorporated community of Lawler.

A little before noon on a Tuesday in late June, several dozen people from across the region filed into the barn-red, century-old town store turned saloon. They settled into seats around folding tables in the rear banquet room, where deer horns and a bearskin rug adorn the walls.

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Long-delayed Minnesota copper-nickel mining project wins a round in court after several setbacks – by Steve Karnowski (Associated Press – December 18, 2023)

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The Minnesota Court of Appeals on Monday affirmed a decision by a state agency to grant a major permit for the proposed NewRange copper-nickel mine, saying regulators adequately considered the possibility that developers might expand the project in the future.

It was a win for NewRange Copper Nickel, which remains stalled by court and regulatory setbacks. The $1 billion open-pit mine near Babbitt and processing plant near Hoyt Lakes would be Minnesota’s first copper-nickel mine. It’s a 50-50 joint venture between Swiss commodities giant Glencore and Canada-based Teck Resources. The project was renamed NewRange Copper Nickel in February but it’s still widely known by its old name, PolyMet.

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U.S. Races to Expand Michigan Locks and Secure the Supply Chain – by Ken Thomas (Wall Street Journal – October 15, 2023)

The Soo Locks, which once served the fur trade, now move 90% of iron ore for automakers and manufacturers

SAULT STE. MARIE, Mich.—About 10,000 ships pass through the Soo Locks each year to bring iron ore, grain, limestone and other staples across the Great Lakes and Canada into the Midwest and beyond. The navigational system, which allows large ships to bypass rapids below Lake Superior, was originally opened in the 1850s to handle a boom in copper mining. Every few decades, the locks were upgraded—until recently.

The largest lock, built in the 1960s and called the Poe Lock, is a vital link in the U.S. industrial supply chain but has been shut down for repairs 20 times in the last 10 years. Nine of the outages occurred in the last four years.

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Pentagon gives mine developer $20M to find nickel in Michigan – by Garret Ellison (M – September 20, 2023)

WASHINGTON, D.C., — The federal government has awarded more than $20 million to a mine developer which is exploring for nickel deposits in Michigan and Minnesota.

On Tuesday, Sept. 12, the U.S. Department of Defense awarded a grant to Talon Metals, which is accelerating its hunt for nickel along a geologically unique region that includes parts of Minnesota and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

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Lithium, Nickel Miners Get $110 Million Boost From US Defense Department – by Joe Deaux (Bloomberg News – September 12, 2023)

(Bloomberg) — Albemarle Corp. and Talon Metals Corp. are getting about $110 million in new US government funding to support the expansion of domestic mining of lithium and nickel, two metals critical to the nation’s energy transition.

Albemarle, the world’s largest lithium producer, will get $90 million to help support the miner’s planned reopening of its Kings Mountain, North Carolina lithium mine. Nickel miner Talon Metals will get $20.6 million to advance exploration of its Tamarack Intrusive Complex in Minnesota. The agreements, under the Defense Production Act, were announced Tuesday by the Defense Department.

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Mining company loses bid to revive Minnesota copper, nickel project – by Clark Mindock (Reuters – September 7, 2023)

Sept 7 (Reuters) – A U.S. judge has rejected a bid by a subsidiary of Chilean mining company Antofagasta Plc(ANTO.L) to restore canceled mineral leases for a proposed $1.7 billion Minnesota copper and nickel mine, which the Biden administration had blocked over concerns it could pollute a major recreational waterway.

U.S. District Judge Christopher Cooper in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday dismissed Twin Metals’ 2022 lawsuit, which challenged the U.S. Interior Department’s decision earlier that year to cancel leases for an underground mine near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. The project would have been one of the biggest U.S. sources of metals needed to build electric vehicle batteries and other clean energy technologies.

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Front Row Seat: Book explores culture, conflict on Iron Range – by Jay Gabler (Duluth News Tribune – August 17, 2023)

As a sociological research project, Erik Kojola spent four years talking with people on both sides of the copper-nickel mining debate for “Mining the Heartland.”

DULUTH — Erik Kojola’s paternal grandparents have died, but he thinks the Hibbing couple would have been excited to know their grandchild wrote a book about the Iron Range. At the same time, Kojola believes, they would have been “somewhat dismayed to see some of the conflicts that are going on right now.”

Kojola was speaking via video call last week from the Washington D.C. area, where he lives and works as a researcher for Greenpeace. He was raised out east, but his parents are from the Northland and Kojola got to know the area through family visits.

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Glencore moves to take full control of PolyMet, developer of Minnesota copper-nickel mine – by Steve Karnowski (Associated Press – July 3, 2023)

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Swiss commodities giant Glencore moved Monday to take full ownership of PolyMet Mining, a company that’s developing a copper-nickel mine in northeastern Minnesota with one of Canada’s largest miners, Teck Resources.

Glencore already owns 82% of PolyMet Mining and has long been the project’s main financial backer. It offered Monday to pay around $71 million to raise that stake to 100%, which would take St. Paul-headquartered PolyMet private. Glencore’s proposal represents around a 167% premium over PolyMet’s closing stock price on Friday, and shares surged on the news in Monday’s trading.

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Minnesota plans rewrite of rules for copper-nickel mining near popular wilderness (Associated Press – June 1, 2023)

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Minnesota regulators have concluded that state rules governing where copper-nickel mines can be built are insufficient to protect the pristine Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness from noise and light pollution, creating another potential obstacle to the proposed Twin Metals mine in northeastern Minnesota.

But the Department of Natural Resources declined as part of that decision Wednesday to declare a watershed that flows into the Boundary Waters off-limits to copper-nickel mining altogether, which had been a goal of the environmental group that challenged the regulations, Minnesota Public Radio reported.

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Industry, business groups optimistic on nickel mining bordering Lake Superior – by Bruce Walker (The Center Square – May 26, 2023)

(The Center Square) – Geologists and mining experts say Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula may provide a solution for an obstacle facing the electric vehicle transition. Minerals are needed, and this area has them.

U.S. manufacturers are largely dependent on foreign countries like China, Russia and Indonesia for critical minerals like nickel and cobalt, which are key materials for electric vehicle batteries. Automakers increasingly are looking for domestic supplies, and northern Minnesota and Wisconsin as well as Michigan’s Upper Peninsula – a geological area bordering Lake Superior dubbed the Midcontinent Rift – may provide the solution.

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Inside the mines and megamachines of the Iron Range – by Eric Roper (Star Tribune – May 12, 2023)

A family’s question about large machines resulted in a Curious Minnesota field trip to the mighty Mesabi, a place that has fueled America’s success story.

KEEWATIN — The deep pits of the Iron Range feel quite otherworldly in a state known for its flat topography. Here, trucks the size of houses traverse vast canyons that have been carved away over decades by explosives and excavators. It is a constantly evolving landscape.

The Munson family of St. Louis Park asked Curious Minnesota, the Star Tribune’s reader-fueled reporting project, to find the state’s largest machine — inspired by 9-year-old Julien’s new Transformers toy. Our hunt for answers in January revealed many candidates in the iron mines of northern Minnesota.

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OPINION EDITORIALS: Our View: Declare Minnesota what it is, a mining-friendly state (Deluth News Tribune – March 23, 2023)

Of course Minnesota is a mining-friendly state. We’ve been successfully mining here for more than a century and a half, the industry fueling our state economy, propping up our schools, and defining us.

Minnesota mining has been credited for being a key to victory in two world wars. If it wasn’t for Minnesota mining, the bustle and activity at the port of Duluth-Superior, the largest on the Great Lakes, would be a shadow of itself.

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In Response: Mining opponents refuse to accept we need more mining – by Ryan Sistad (Duluth News Tribune – February 8, 2023)

Ryan Sistad of Duluth is executive director of Better In Our Back Yard (, which promotes responsible industrial development.

In her Jan. 25 column in the News Tribune, Lynn Anderson of the Tamarack Water Alliance attempted to convince Minnesotans that the high-grade nickel deposit discovered in the deep bedrock of Aitkin County by Talon Metals is actually not needed in the energy transition.

She even asserted that Tesla made a mistake by partnering with Talon Metals to source nickel because the company is moving to batteries that don’t use nickel and that any day now President Joe Biden will reverse course and remove nickel from the U.S. critical-minerals list. None of this is true.

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Feds slap 20-year mining ban on land near Boundary Waters – by Dan Kraker (MPR News – January 26, 2023)

The U.S. Department of the Interior issued a 20-year mining moratorium Thursday on 225,000 acres of federal land near the Boundary Waters, dealing a further blow to the proposed Twin Metals mine near Ely, Minn. and other potential mines for copper, nickel and precious metals within the watershed of the canoe wilderness area.

The decision is the latest milestone in a long and contentious tug of war over mining near the popular wilderness area that has spanned more than six years and three presidential administrations.

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COMMENTARY: Hope for the Iron Range economy, but we must put the past behind us – by Aaron Brown (Minnesota Reformer – January 9, 2023)


At the hunting shack this year, my grandfather Ward Brown, Jr., told how a high school friend saved him from getting beat up by a Chisholm gang back around 1952. Not long after, this friend lay dead in the wreck of his restored ’32 Chevy on the road between Side Lake and Hibbing.

No “Leave It To Beaver” utopia here; the 1950s were wild on northern Minnesota’s Mesabi Iron Range, wild because it seemed like it was all coming to an end. This happened more than 70 years ago. But it’s not just grandpa’s friend who’s gone, it’s also the road where he died.

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