COMMENTARY: The humbling of giants: The rise and decline of the Iron Range — Essay – by Aaron Brown (Minnesota Reformer – September 28, 2021)

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Mesabi means giant. That means that I was raised in the land of giants on the Mesabi Iron Range of northern Minnesota. In my youth, I saw those giants as the elected leaders who fought for my homeland in St. Paul and Washington, D.C.

When I was 10 I watched my grandfather, Marvin Johnson, run for the first and only time in my life. Twenty years after his body was crushed in a mining accident, he sprinted into the street to shake then-Gov. Rudy Perpich’s hand at the Keewatin Fourth of July parade. His admiration was greater than the pain.

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Judge allows DNR review of mining rules near Boundary Waters to move forward – by Jimmy Lovrien (Duluth News Tribune – May 12, 2021)

https://www.duluthnewstribune.com/

Minnesota regulators will review the state rules for copper-nickel mining within the same watershed as the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness after a judge on Wednesday upheld an agreement allowing for the review and dismissed a challenge by Twin Metals, which is proposing such a mine in that watershed.

Judge Laura Nelson in State District Court in St. Paul remanded the issues to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources so it could “institute appropriate administrative proceedings to consider and make findings and issue an order regarding the alleged inadequacy” and that Twin Metals’ motion to dismiss “fails.”

The order allows a November agreement between the DNR and environmental group Northeastern Minnesotans for Wilderness to proceed. In that, the state agency agreed to review its 1993 non-ferrous, or non-iron, mining rules to determine if it can actually protect the BWCAW from copper-nickel mining pollution in the Rainy River Watershed.

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Minnesota copper project in limbo as officials launch permits review – Cecilia Jamasmie (Mining.com – May 11, 2021)

https://www.mining.com/

The US Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has agreed to reconsider its decision to renew 13 prospecting permits in Minnesota, which could have allowed Antofagasta’s Twin Metals to expand its proposed copper-nickel mine at the edge of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

The move by the federal agency, part of the US Department of the Interior, comes in response to a lawsuit filed last year by conservation groups. They challenged a four-year extension of the permits, granted by former President Donald Trump.

“After the horrendous years of the Trump administration, federal officials now appear focused on rational, science-based decision making,” Marc Fink, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement.

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Both sides claim victory in complicated PolyMet court ruling – by Dan Kraker (Minnesota Public Radio News – April 28, 2021)

https://www.mprnews.org/

Both sides claimed victory Wednesday after the state Supreme Court issued a complex ruling over state permits for the proposed PolyMet copper-nickel mine in northeastern Minnesota.

Environmental groups and the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa were quick to celebrate the ruling, saying the decision “hits the reset button” on the proposal, which would be the first non-iron ore mining operation built in northern Minnesota.

In a 48-page ruling, the court upheld the Minnesota Court of Appeals’ reversal of the Department of Natural Resources’ decision to grant a critical “permit to mine.” The appeals court said the state agency failed to set a fixed term for the permit and it ordered the DNR to set an appropriate term.

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Minnesota Supreme Court issues mixed opinion on PolyMet’s air permits – by Jimmy Lovrien (Duluth News Tribune – Feb 24th 2021)

https://www.duluthnewstribune.com/

Questions persist over a March 2018 report outlining potential expansion plans.

On one hand, the Minnesota Supreme Court on Wednesday reversed a lower court’s decision that would have sent PolyMet’s air permits back to state regulators for further review.

But on the other, it instructed a lower court to review whether PolyMet, which is trying to open the state’s first copper-nickel mine, deceived the regulators by withholding a report outlining the potential for a much larger mine.

Both opponents and supporters of PolyMet claimed victory in Wednesday’s Supreme Court opinion written by Justice Margaret Chutich.

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What Joe Biden’s Cabinet picks mean for northern Minnesota’s Twin Metals mining project – by Walker Orenstein (MinnPost – January 4, 2021)

https://www.minnpost.com/

In 2016, the administration of Barack Obama halted a controversial mining project near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. President Trump revived it once he took office.

What will President-elect Joe Biden do? Since his campaign for president began, Biden hasn’t said anything about the Twin Metals Minnesota proposal, but two of Biden’s Cabinet picks may offer the best hint yet.

The president-elect chose Tom Vilsack, who was secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture under Obama, to return to the job. The USDA oversees the Forest Service, which manages the Superior National Forest, where Twin Metals wants to mine.

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2020 has been transformational year for Iron Range mining – by Jerry Burnes (Minneapolis Star Tribune – November 9, 2020)

https://www.startribune.com/

Associated Press – VIRGINIA, Minn. — When Lourenco Goncalves took the helm as CEO of Cliffs Natural Resources in 2014, he inherited a ore boat’s load of a mess: billions in debt, a declining reputation and a rumblings that the century-plus-old company would go belly up in bankruptcy.

Check that. He didn’t inherit the mess. He took it over — in a hostile fashion — to willingly enact his vision for the company, spending millions of his money to, in his words during a 2018 interview, “put my money where my mouth is.”

In the six years since, Cleveland-Cliffs (the company reverted back to its original name in 2017) has shed those billions of dollars owed, helped lead the Iron Range out of a massive industry downturn in 2015 and is ready to open the company’s first hot-briquetted iron facility in Toledo, Ohio.

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Election Will Decide Fate of Alaska Gold Mine, Shift to E-Cars – by Jennifer A. Dlouhy (Bloomberg News – October 29, 2020)

https://www.bnnbloomberg.ca/

(Bloomberg) — Oil drilling in the Arctic and the Pebble gold mine in Alaska aren’t actually on the ballot — but they might as well be.

The controversial projects are hanging in the balance of the presidential election, with Joe Biden’s vow to scuttle them. And dozens of other oil, gas and mining ventures planned across the U.S. face heightened risk of rejection or longer permitting times as the Democratic nominee focuses on promoting cleaner alternatives.

The threat extends even to some projects that already have federal permits. Lawsuits challenging government approvals create an opening for settlement agreements that result in more analysis and possibly canceled authorizations, said Height Securities LLC analyst Josh Price.

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Despite political spotlight, Iron Range town still waiting for economic spark – by Katie Galioto (Minneapolis Star Tribune – October 26, 2020)

https://www.startribune.com/

HOYT LAKES, MINN. – When Donald Trump became president and promised an extraordinary economic resurgence for Minnesota’s Iron Range, this small town of 2,000 seemed poised for a renaissance.

But four years later, Hoyt Lakes is more or less the same. The northeastern Minnesota city that’s home to the proposed PolyMet copper-nickel mine hasn’t gained or lost many jobs since Trump took office. Unemployment remains higher than the state average, while median household income is much lower than in other parts of Minnesota.

Presidential candidates thrust the Iron Range into the national spotlight this election cycle, claiming credit for its recent successes and blaming others for its struggles.

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Shifting Iron Range politics may not be enough for Trump in Minnesota – by Briana Bierschbach (Minneapolis Star Tribune – October 18, 2020)

https://www.startribune.com/

The scene in the northern Minnesota mining town of Virginia fit perfectly into the Trump campaign’s story line.

On one side of the street, a group of Republicans were waving Trump flags and singing “God Bless the U.S.A.” Across the street at the local steelworkers’ union office, a smaller group stood masked and silent, looking on with Joe Biden signs.

One of the Trump supporters made a crack about the size of the Biden crowd. Rob Farnsworth, a Republican state House candidate and member of the Minnesota teachers’ union, extended an invitation.

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Minnesota Supreme Court hears dispute over canceled PolyMet mine permits – by Jennifer Bjorhus (Minneapolis Star Tribune – October 13, 2020)

https://www.startribune.com/

The Minnesota Supreme Court will decide whether state regulators erred in issuing permits for PolyMet Mining Corp.’s copper-nickel mine without a special hearing, and could impose further review of the $1 billion project.

The state’s highest court became involved Tuesday in the landmark mine project near Hoyt Lakes — a new type of mine for the state — after an appellate court struck down three permits and sent them back to the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) for a contested case hearing.

The lower court reversed PolyMet’s permit to mine and two dam safety permits in January, partly on the grounds that the DNR did not hold the contested-case hearing to vet significant objections from environmentalists and the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, who live downstream from the planned mine.

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History preserved: Iron Ore Heritage Recreation Authority turns restored structure over to city – by Jackie Jahfetson (The Mining Journal – July 1, 2020)

https://www.miningjournal.net/

MARQUETTE — Driving west into Marquette along U.S. 41, passers-by come across a stone structure that resembles an igloo on the Iron Ore Heritage Trail.

Were those curious aware at one time the kiln was used to burn wood into charcoal which fed blast furnaces that converted iron ore and limestone into pig iron during the late 19th century?

After the last of the 43 Carp River kilns collapsed in a heavy wet spring snowstorm in 2016, the historical sandstone structure has been resurrected and was officially turned over to the city of Marquette Monday during a ceremony.

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New lawsuit targets Minnesota’s copper-nickel mining rules – by Jimmy Lovrien (Minnesota Public Radio News – June 25, 2020)

https://www.mprnews.org/

Duluth News Tribune – Opponents of copper-nickel mining are urging Minnesota regulators to change the state’s copper-nickel mining rules to ban that type of mining within the same watershed as the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

The Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters announced in a news release Wednesday it was filing a lawsuit under the Minnesota Environmental Rights Act asking a judge to order the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources “to initiate a public process to amend state non-ferrous mining rules that would fully protect the water and air quality, wilderness character and other irreplaceable natural resources of the Boundary Waters” and “to prohibit sulfide-ore copper mining and related surface disturbance in the Rainy River-Headwaters.”

If successful, the rule change would effectively kill Twin Metals’ proposed underground copper-nickel mine, processing plant and tailings storage facility along Birch Lake, which flows into the BWCAW via the Kawishiwi River.

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DNR deems Twin Metals’ plan for copper mine near Boundary Waters ‘incomplete’ – by Jennifer Bjorhus (Minneapolis Star Tribune – June 24, 2020)

https://www.startribune.com/

Minnesota environmental regulators have published nearly 800 comments on the Twin Metals plan to build a copper-nickel mine just outside the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in northern Minnesota, deeming the company’s project proposal “incomplete.”

The state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) says it needs the clarifications and extra information before it can start the required environmental impact statement on the proposed mine, one of the most contentious mine projects in the state’s history.

The comments, dated June 15, are posted on the Twin Metals section of the DNR’s website. The agency has “determined the initial submittal to be incomplete,” it said.

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What are Joe Biden’s views on two of the most controversial environmental projects in Minnesota? – by Walker Orenstein and Gabe Schneider (MinnPost – May 11, 2020)

https://www.minnpost.com/

In late April, former Vice President Joe Biden’s campaign held a virtual event with Minnesota supporters to promote the Democrat’s plans to address climate change and a clean environment.

But while U.S. Sen. Tina Smith and other Biden surrogates talked about carbon-free energy, clean water, agriculture and electric cars, they did not touch on perhaps the two most controversial environmental issues in the state: copper-nickel mining in Northern Minnesota and the proposed Line 3 oil pipeline.

Many of the major Democratic candidates in the presidential race said they would oppose the Line 3 project, the proposed Twin Metals mine near Ely, or both if elected in the fall of 2020. Those stances heartened the environmentalist wing of the party and roiled trade unions and rural DFLers.

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