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Strategic metals offer hope of good, well-paying jobs for Minnesotans

mine remains
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Minnesota is fortunate to have an abundance of natural resources. We are literally, “by nature” an agricultural state, a timber state and a mining state.

When you measure job creation, Minnesota is doing better than most states today. If we wish to continue this trend for 2013 and beyond, we must always be working to attract industries that can generate good paying jobs for our citizens.

Ruth Batulis
Ruthe Batulis

The International Union of Operating Engineers Local 49 represents 13,000 heavy-equipment operators, most of which make their living building the infrastructure of Minnesota. The Dakota County Regional Chamber of Commerce represents businesses of all kinds in the Southeast Suburbs of the Twin Cities. Business and labor don’t always agree, but when it comes to job creation, and specifically the jobs that will come with the mining of strategic metals in Northern Minnesota, we couldn’t agree more.

Minnesota is fortunate to have an abundance of natural resources. We are literally, “by nature” an agricultural state, a timber state and a mining state. The jobs these industries have brought have raised families for generations here. We have an emerging prospect right now in Northeast Minnesota for the mining of strategic metals. Metals such as copper, nickel, platinum, palladium, cobalt and gold are known to be plentiful and now accessible. One of several deposits already has over 4 billion tons of these minerals identified.

While the overall job picture in Minnesota is good, we are among the worst states in the nation for construction job creation over the last three years. The governor and the 2012 Legislature took great steps to address this crisis through the funding of public projects, but more needs to be done to spur private sector construction. The jobs that come with building these new mines are a critical part of the future job prospects for thousands of construction workers in this state.
 

Associated and spinoff jobs

Jason George
Jason George

What people don’t necessarily think of when it comes to our natural resources, and for us what is at least equally exciting, is that they also supply our state with thousands of associated and spinoff jobs. Entrepreneurs and workers across Minnesota and throughout the Twin Cities will have new opportunities in industries constrained only by their entrepreneurial spirit. These strategic metals are used in electric car batteries, smart phones, wind turbines and other high tech equipment. Imagine our medical device industry, or Minnesota’s many national defense contractors and suppliers having an opportunity to creatively utilize strategic metals mined right here in Minnesota. That is on the horizon.

Furthermore, the strategic metals industry has the opportunity to provide our state with billions of dollars in tax revenue and royalties. Construction workers that are working pay taxes, a lot of them, which benefits the state more than having them at home collecting unemployment. Mining royalties in Minnesota benefit our state’s school trust fund.

We have some of the best schools in the country, but resources for our schools are constantly an issue of public discussion and debate. Our schools have among the most to benefit from an emerging strategic metals industry in Minnesota. For both a regional Chamber of Commerce and a construction union that needs skilled workers for the future, education and work-force development issues are paramount. The prospect of this kind of new investment is thrilling.

Confident in our agencies

We are blessed in Minnesota that any large-scale projects and the jobs that follow come with the equivalent of “Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval.” Our environmental laws, for example, are set up to ensure that our precious waters are protected from the outset through our permitting process. We can always rest assured that projects receiving permits have undergone responsible and extensive scrutiny by the Department of Natural Resources, the MPCA and other state and federal agencies. We live in a state where our agencies don’t rush to judgment, because the law doesn’t allow it. And we can be confident, in the decisions these agencies ultimately make.

We are also home to the most skilled construction work force in this country; we can rely on them to build these projects safely and with great care for the environment because we have done that for as long as this state has existed.

We have thousands of strategic-metals-related jobs on the horizon in Northeast Minnesota which will last for generations. This kind of anchor industry in Northeast Minnesota has the potential for positive benefits statewide. We strongly support the continued exploration for strategic metals, and the permitting of companies which can provide so much promise.

Ruthe Batulis is the president of the Dakota County Regional Chamber. Jason George is the legislative and political director of Operating Engineers Local 49. 

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Comments (8)

Can we really rest assured that state agencies can protect us?

Reductions in staff levels and changing regulations as we have seen or attempted in the past 5-10 years makes we wonder if I can be assured that sound practices and protections will be in place. If that were the case why was the Polymet environmental impact statement approved by the state and then rejected by the EPA? What about the attempt to raise the limit of allowable sulfides without any scientific evidence that the increase limit was sound?

Jobs and economic growth are important. But even more important is the long term future of the environment in Minnesota. Hopefully attempts to rush things and cut adequate use of science to develop sound regulation and application of best practices will not be part of the future. We ought to be able to balance the needs for jobs and development without relying on shortcuts and sleight of hand,

Polyanna Lives!

Yes, indeed, it is POSSIBLE for the mining of which Ms. Batulis and Mr. George are writing in favor to be done without causing massive environmental problems,...

and there are very large profits to be made in such mining.

But environmentally-friendly mining of strategic minerals has NEVER been done (despite continuous, endlessly-repeated promises from the mining industry),...

because there is far MORE profit to be made doing such mining in ways cause DAMAGE to the environment and the health of workers.

The usual pattern is that non-local companies and investors come in, extract that maximum amount of profit from the mines that they can,...

then when the mines are played out, they declare bankruptcy, skip town and leave the local population and government to clean up the mess they've left behind, the costs of which often equal to or even exceed whatever benefit the local population received from the jobs that those mines created.

Far too often miners, and the local population in general, are left with chronic health issues related to their jobs because protecting those miners while they worked would have cut into profits, too.

Since the mining companies have proven that they can never be trusted to protect the environment nor to protect their workers, nor to stick around and clean up their own mess, the mining of "strategic metals," although it always promises jobs and lots of profit, is, and always has been a losing proposition for the places and populations where it's been carried out.

Reality

A combination of serious economic pressures and faith in MN regulatory agencies suggest that those mines will open. The Kennecott mine in Wisconsin operated safely, and so can these. Important to get substantial upfront financial guarantees for remediation and long term closing obligations.

Minnesota's economic future is our water, not more mining

The Flambeau Mine in Wisconsin has problems. And Flambeau was a localized deposit compared to the disseminated ore body of the Duluth Complex, small in area when compared to individual sulfide mining projects proposed for Minnesota. Minnesota’s taconite mines have repeatedly violated air and water quality standards, paid fines or been given variances, and continue to pollute. Unless our agencies are willing to shut taconite mines down for polluting (stipulating workers be put on paid leave) there can be no public confidence. Paying fines is factored in as part of the industry’s cost of doing business. As for financial assurance there is none that can in reality handle the perpetual treatment of sulfide mining. Evidently Minnesota cannot even stop the mining pollution we have from taconite mining. Since 2004, all modern taconite mines in Minnesota have records of air and water quality violations and fines.

The following is a link to information on Flambeau: http://flambeaumineexposed.wordpress.com/

an idea who's time

has passed. Nary a mention of conservation. Very sad ! Kinda like not being able to mention using steroids to borrow an analogy. It is important for people to have jobs but do those jobs need to be jobs we have always paid top dollar for ? What about paying top dollar for conservation recycling ? How much bauxite is mined these days ? Do we continually have to find a resource to exploit ? Revalue ! Revalue. But then again middle class wages have flatlined.

Mining the answer?

There are gaping holes, mountains of waste, rusting hulks and dying towns all across Northern Minnesota that suggest that no, mining is not the answer.

Propaganda

The writers of this article are evidently unaware of the low-grade mineralization of northeast Minnesota. For example, a 4 billion ton deposit would consist of 1% metal concentrates and 99% waste rock. Because of the huge amount of waste rock--basically in crushed or ground form, along with open pits--it's virtually impossible to prevent ground and surface water contamination. Also, the extent of such operations changes the entire contour and character of the land. In this case, the land extends from Lake Vermilion, along the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, to Lake Superior.
Whether these metals can be claimed as strategic is questionable. There is currently no shortage of copper or nickel. Is it economically or environmentally strategic for us to use electronic items as throw-away products due to their continual upgrading, some of it merely cosmetic?
And neither writer mentioned how many resources it takes to mine 99% waste rock. In fact, the current amount of mining, fracking, and drilling taking place requires its own demand for more oil, gas, and metals, thus depleting finite supplies. At the same time, all such activities deplete water aquifers while polluting the water.
The writers also appear to be unaware of the fact that state regulations are not being followed. All of the current mining operations taking place in northeast Minnesota are operating under variances. Hence none are meeting water/air quality standards, especially in regard to mercury and sulfates.
We cannot continue to use jobs as an excuse for polluting our environment. Instead we need to create jobs that will clean up the contamination that we have, and jobs that will help design more efficient uses of land, space, and resources.

Ah yes.

Spare us the chamber of commerce pitch to trust the agencies to protect us. The last session
of the legislature went a long way to cripple standards and soften these agencies tasked with
protecting our lands and waters. We need only look to how current mine operations fail to meet
standards to tell us what is coming. Slow employment in construction is no excuse to hold our resources
hostage.