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Are NorthMet jobs the right jobs for the Iron Range?

What would a sustainable Iron Range look like and work like?

Earlier today I was skimming through the Cumulative Effects section (Chapter 6) of the PolyMet SEIS. I’m fascinated by statements found on page 100 of Chapter 6.

Construction of the above-mentioned projects would generate approximately 1,817 new jobs directly in the CEAA, 2 percent of the total existing study area employment. Given the timing of these projects, the effects are likely to be experienced across different geographies over time. 

The operational phases of the cumulative actions would generate approximately 572 new jobs in the CEAA, about one percent of the area’s total current employment.

Photo by John Harrington
Northern Minnesota rock bottom beauty
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What I couldn’t find, at least in this section, is a baseline of 20 year employment forecasts without the project. We know that employment in the mining industry has been declining for some time. We also know that “average incomes increased 30 to 40 percent over and above inflation since the collapse of metal industry jobs began in 1978. As real earnings from the iron industry fell by 65 to 75 percent in Itasca and Lake Counties, real earnings from the rest of the economy increased 65 to 75 percent.” [The Economic Role of Metal Mining in Minnesota: Past, Present, and Future] So, we are faced with those who claim they support the mine because it will bring jobs and growth which seem to be happening without the NorthMet mine, in opposition to those who oppose the mine because they are concerned about long term environmental protection and financial responsibility, and neither side focusing on growing evidence that new economic growth and development financing is a ponzi scheme. Am I the only one having trouble with this picture?

Photo by John Harrington
Northern Minnesota sky blue waters

I’d like to ask an alternative question or two which, unfortunately, our current regulatory and permitting processes almost never let us raise, let alone answer. What would a sustainable Iron Range look like and work like? How would Rangers and other Minnesotans collectively find answers to those questions? Where would projects like PolyMet-NorthMet fit in a sustainable northern Minnesota? Last time I checked, lumber was a renewable resource, if managed properly. Mines eventually play out. How long should Minnesota depend on extractive industries for economic growth? Would an investment in electronic waste reprocessing and recycling facilities on the Range create longer term jobs with living wages and fewer environmental impacts? It seems to me that Minnesota has gotten well beyond the point where we should be forced to choose the least worst alternative as we try to require that the most egregious negative environmental impacts be mitigated (by those who will take their profits and retire elsewhere, leaving us or our children to spend out tax dollars to clean up their mess). We should be able to do better than that, after all, this our future  home we’re developing. We shouldn’t do that in the dark.

This post was written by John Harrington and originally published on My Minnesota. Follow John on Twitter: @JohnHthePoet.

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