Copper-nickel mining shaping up as big issue for Dayton campaign, labor and environmentalists

Gov. Mark Dayton
MinnPost file photo by James NordGov. Mark Dayton

Supporters of the Dayton for Governor campaign are believed to be polling on an issue critical to his re-election chances. No, it’s not the departure of MnSure Executive Director April Todd Malmov.

The polling focuses on the question of copper-nickel mining in northern Minnesota, according to two sources who have knowledge of the campaign and who are familiar with the efforts of PolyMet and Twin Metals to obtain state permits for their mining operations.

Dayton campaign director Katie Tinucci said the campaign itself currently is doing no polling and had conducted its last poll in September.

Jason George is political director for Operating Engineers Local 49, which represents heavy equipment operators, many of whom live the 8th Congressional District of northern Minnesota. He said his members are well aware of the political sensitivity of the mining debate, which places environmentalists and labor — both important to Dayton’s re-election chances — on opposing sides. 

“This is a hugely important issue to us,” George said. “Our interest is the jobs aspect and the potential jobs that can be created if we can get this industry going.”

George and his colleagues are not afraid to get in the face of politicians whom they believe have made up their minds prematurely while the environmental review process is still under way.

In particular, Local 49 and other labor unions are rankled by the opposition of State Auditor Rebecca Otto.  During a recent meeting of the state executive council — a group composed of the governor, lieutenant governor, secretary of state, auditor and attorney general —only Otto voted against the expansion of mineral leases.  

That prompted George to ask for a meeting with Otto that he describes as “not acrimonious [but] we just disagree very strongly with her position.”

According to George, Dayton is handling the issue properly. “I think he believes in the process,” he said. “He trusts the DNR and the commissioner to follow the process and get it right.

“And if he’s polling, he’s going to find out that there’s overwhelming support for mining and overwhelming support, especially, where the mining takes place.”

During the 2014 legislative session, George said, labor is planning to lobby lawmakers as aggressively as environmental coalitions.

“We will be giving our members every tool so they can let their political leaders know how they feel,” he said “I hope the politicians listen. We are definitely going to weigh in.”

You can also learn about all our free newsletter options.

Comments (4)

  1. Submitted by Dennis Litfin on 12/23/2013 - 08:07 pm.

    George and his 49’ers

    along with Polly Met, are only interested in the $ factor. Thank God that Rebecca Otto looks at the big picture which will affect Minnesotans for decades to come.

  2. Submitted by Steve Titterud on 12/28/2013 - 05:07 pm.

    300 jobs for 20 years at the price of hundreds of years of…

    …environmental damage ?

    The alleged solutions are all speculative. EVEN IF these solutions are possible, the period of time that consistent effort, and funding of that effort, will be required exceeds the duration of the state of MN so far, and there is virtually no chance PolyMet will survive for several hundred years.

    Who but a union advocate could think this is worth it ?

    I am astonished at the support of the top legal officers in MN government, Ms. Otto excepted.

    I think the Governor has miscalculated this one. Of course it’s natural for a DFLer to deliver for the unions, but not at a cost like this.

    Add up Dayton’s failures, and they are an extremely heavy lift, even though he is in general popular – and this comes from a former supporter, who voted for him every time over the years.

    The Vikings stadium fraud, the awful rollout of MNSure, and now caving to PolyMet and the unions – it’s just too much malfeasance in important matters.

    It’s not that he’s done no good. It’s that what he’s done that’s bad is unforgivable. He’ll never get my vote again.

  3. Submitted by Pat Brady on 01/02/2014 - 08:31 am.

    Watch them all like a hawk

    Polymet has spent 60 million dollars to get their ducks in a row. They produced a revised impact statement that is buried on the DNR web site. They are providing buses and stickers for their supporters of their mining proposal to the public meeting in Duluth on Jan 16. Coordinating their PR compaign from a suite of offices in St. Paul, who are their lobbyists?
    Meanwhile, the average citizen does not even have this new industry that will transform areas of our state on their radar.
    Hundreds of years for clean up for 20 years of jobs in this one mine, What kinds of jobs at year five, ten, fifteen? their imacpt statement states that many of the jobs will be filled by people who will not permanently live in the area.
    As Rebbecca Otto said, how do you calculate the cost of this type of cleanup?
    I say have each mining company with their global money backers to pay up front with gold bullion.
    Our greatest resource in MN is not the minerals buried beneath our land. Our greatest resource is water, good clean water , our lakes, streams, rivers.

  4. Submitted by Annie Grandy on 01/11/2014 - 06:21 pm.


    West Virginia’s 9 counties which can no longer drink their water should be the example used by all sides when deciding whether sulfide mining is good for Minnesota. When all the water is polluted (coal mining, fracking and sulfide mining along with agricultural run off), please tell me, what will people drink? If there’s no clean water to drink, jobs and profits won’t mean a thing. Think about it. No bottled water, no water from the tap, no water from the pump. Thirst is a horrible way to die.

Leave a Reply