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Taking a closer look at what Minnesota voters told us

Copper-nickel mining isn’t top of mind, but the connection to fighting climate change is key to understand. 

Chris Knopf of the Friends of the Boundary Waters Action Network (BWAN) stated in a Community Voices article on Nov. 13 that nearly 70% of the candidates endorsed by his organization won their elections this month because they share his group’s opposition to copper mining in Minnesota.  His interpretation of the results is self-serving and wrong. Election results show that voters were not swayed by his group’s narrow agenda. 

The 2020 election was focused on public health, the economy, climate change and public safety. None of the election results support any suggestion that the endorsement of the BWAN had any impact. Let’s look at how their candidates really did on election day.  

The vast majority of the candidates endorsed by BWAN either won or lost by huge margins, and those endorsements had no impact on the outcome. The BWAN endorsed candidates in only 19 races where the winner got 55% or less of the total vote.  They won nine, or 47 percent, and lost 10. Those are the races that determine control of the Minnesota House and Senate. 

According to data from the Minnesota Secretary of State, House candidates endorsed by BWAN won seven races and lost five, getting 3,200 more votes than their opponents.  Their Senate candidates won two races and lost five, with their opponents getting over 12,800 more votes. In all but one of those races, the BWAN candidates significantly underperformed Democratic President-elect Joe Biden. The BWAN House candidates got almost 8,260 fewer votes than Biden and the Senate candidates got over 14,000 fewer votes than Biden.

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The truth is that every member of the Iron Range legislative delegation – all of whom support a science-driven environmental review process for nonferrous mining projects – was re-elected this year. Knopf mentions that the DFL Central Committee adopted a resolution calling for a moratorium on nonferrous mining but fails to note that the DFL chair of the House Environment Committee lost his reelection bid. The DFL lost seats in the state House of Representatives, and was unable to take control of the state Senate in a year when the democratic presidential candidate won the state by a significant margin.

It is time that we call the Friends of the Boundary Waters and their Action Network what they really are. They are organizations funded by narrowly focused special interests established solely for the purpose of defeating all mining proposals by undercutting the public’s trust in science, the regulatory process, and the government agencies charged with protecting the environment. They are waging misinformation campaigns and ongoing litigation against the very environmental review processes that are designed to protect our state’s watersheds, including the Boundary Waters. 

Advocates truly looking out for the environment are focused on the real threat to the Boundary Waters: climate change. They should be working alongside mining companies that are dedicated to ensuring the best available technology is used to safely access the metals that are necessary for supporting a green economy. They should recognize that Minnesota contains the world’s largest known undeveloped copper-nickel deposit, and as a result, our state could become a world leader in responsibly sourcing the metals needed to fight climate change. They should support the public regulatory process that is critical to ensuring the pursuit of sound science. They should be coming to the table to collaborate, as a number of environmental groups are doing, to build partnerships and relationships that advance projects while holding industry accountable. The Friends of the Boundary Waters Action Network is doing none of those things.

All candidates for state office and all voters will tell you they support clean water. And all legislators should support protecting the Boundary Waters. Those who understand the role of government will tell you the best way to do both of those things is to ensure that there is a rigorous and fair regulatory process that produces decisions built on sound science and fact. 

Jason George is the Business Manager/Financial Secretary of the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 49 and Frank Ongaro is the Executive Director of Mining Minnesota.