As a chamber of commerce, we know our community can only survive and thrive if we have a strong local economy. Living wage jobs help stabilize families, allow people to volunteer in the community and donate to local causes, and keep our area strong.
For more than 100 years, Minnesota has benefited from the direct and spinoff jobs created by the mining industry. Many of northern Minnesota’s towns were created as a direct result of mining, and the industry has provided well-paying union jobs to generations of residents.
The modern taconite mining industry has some of the best and brightest environmental scientists and engineers in the world, and our water quality and healthy ecosystems are a testament to their work. However, the industry and steel market have evolved over the years and it is hard to deny that in addition to our taconite mining base, the Iron Range needs a more diversified economy. You can ask any Iron Range mayor or members of our legislative delegation, and they could recite the facts around our current economic fragility.
An enormous economic opportunity
Northeast Minnesota is sitting on the verge of an enormous economic opportunity with non-ferrous mining, which has stirred debate about the economic benefits versus environmental protection. Unfortunately, this has too often led to people picking sides and claiming the other side wants to either “destroy the environment” or “destroy union jobs.” The decisions we collectively make about these projects will have a tremendous impact on our state. The Laurentian Chamber’s position is that our state has very stringent environmental standards, and if mining companies prove their projects can meet these standards through a lengthy environmental review process, they should be permitted to mine. If they can’t meet the standards, their permits to mine should not be approved.
We often hear opponents of non-ferrous mining claim that the industry will destroy the Boundary Waters or devastate the environment. If either of those claims were true, the mine would never be able to meet Minnesota’s environmental standards. Ask yourself, do you believe Gov. Tim Walz’s appointed environmental regulators are looking for ways to cheat the process and allow a corporation to damage the environment? Are the independent environmental scientists who live, work and play in the area, and have helped protect it for generations, suddenly determined to poison the land and water where they live?
Outside investment desperately needed
This is not tiddlywinks, folks. While the economy of the Twin Cities will go on, the economic future of the Iron Range desperately needs this kind of outside investment. If these projects can mine safely, they will provide the spark of energy and investment our area needs.
We are not asking you to become cheerleaders for non-ferrous mining. All we are asking is that you look beyond the political talking points and think critically about these projects. Please don’t just say no while ignoring the emerging scientific evidence. These projects are too important to our region. If they can be done safely, they will strengthen our communities, and help refill our schools and our main streets. They will provide investments in schools across Minnesota through the school trust fund, pump millions of tax dollars into the state and provide generations of future Iron Range families with well-paying union jobs that support families.
Erik Holmstrom is president & CEO of the Laurentian Chamber of Commerce, Virginia, Minnesota.
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