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New DNR commissioner not likely what Range mayors had in mind

The following is an Ely Echo editorial.

Range lawmakers have said since the days of Rudy Perpich that what this area needs is for there to be a DFL governor. Be careful what you wish for.

Mark Dayton may have the right party affiliation as governor, but his choices for the head of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and the Department of Natural Resources may not be Range friendly.

At least not in the current state of concern over whether we will see copper nickel mining here.

Mayors from Ely, Hoyt Lakes, Babbitt, Biwabik, Aurora and Virginia signed a letter to Dayton asking him to use support for Polymet and Twin Metals as a litmus test for his choices for MPCA and DNR commissioners.

It doesn't look like the governor's choices pass the test.

Paul Aasen was tabbed for the MPCA post. His most recent job? Advocacy director for the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy.

Thomas Landwehr was tabbed for the DNR commissioner. His most recent job? Lobbyist for the Nature Conservancy.

Not exactly what Roger Skraba, Marlene Pospeck, Glenn Anderson, Jim Weikum, Mary Hess and Steve Peterson likely had in mind.

The only semi-revealing comment came from fellow DFLer Tom Bakk, who told the Star-Tribune he would have preferred Sen. Rod Skoe, DFL-Clearbrook because he's from up north, and that's where all the natural resources are.

The PolyMet project between Babbitt and Hoyt Lakes has been subject to a permitting process that has already taken about five years and cost the company over $20 million.

The Twin Metals project, a joint venture between Duluth Metals and Chilean mining giant Antofagasta, is in the feasibility phase although supporters say it could lead to more than 1,000 jobs.

Twin Metals proposes to mine copper, nickel and other precious minerals south of Ely.

Last month, Twin Metals purchased Franconia Minerals, which also planned a mine south of Ely.

Skraba's letter said for Range mayors, "It is critical to us that you put forth candidates who truly believe in these projects, and are committed to working with us, Range legislators and the companies to expedite the process responsibly."

We'll keep a close eye on Landwehr to see if he believes you can have mining and still protect the environment.

As for Dayton, will he lose support on the Range if he moves more toward the environmental side of the party versus labor? Will these two key appointments be roadblocks or fair overseers of state government's role in both protecting and extracting natural resources?

The proof, as they say, is in the pudding. In this case, the proof will likely be in the permitting.

This editorial is republished with permission.

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Comments (1)

The question is not whether you can have copper/nickel mining and processing AND protect the environment.

Of course you can.

The question is, are those interested in conducting those mining operations willing to do what it takes in order to protect the environment or will they continue to whine and whine and whine and threaten to take their marbles and go home if they are required to do so...

which would likely reduce their profit margins (most of which will go out of state) from massively astronomical to just handsomely profitable?

The mayors of the range cities want the jobs and will worry about the consequences later, but the people of the range have already seen (in a limited way) what happens when environmentally unfriendly companies are allowed to operate with insufficient external controls (they'll cut anti-pollution corners and go for the money every time).

I suspect Governor Dayton is right in that a strong environmentally-protective perspective is exactly what's now required at MPCA.

Lacking that, any copper/nickel mining "up north" is likely to leave a swath of dead wildlife, toxified rivers, lakes, and drinking water and other long-term destruction in its wake, as has been the case in every other place where such mining has been conducted.

The main investors and management of the company will seek to make maximum profits while keeping unions out of their mines and, thus, seriously undercompensating their workers. Then, when the easy mining has been accomplished, and the easy money extracted, the company doing the mining, and it's very highly enriched investors, will evaporate leaving state and local governments to deal with the massive pollution and chronic health problems they've left in their wake.