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Capitol Chatter: Reports add more heat to mining debate

President John Hinderaker of the Center of the American Experience holds a magazine with a story about an August 2018 report that shows copper-nickel mines in northern Minnesota would be good for the economy. Don Davis / Forum News Service1 / 2
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ST. PAUL — A conservative Minnesota think tank says copper and nickel mining near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness is safe and good for the economy, while a Harvard professor says that economic boost would sour in a few years.

A pair of reports that came out in recent days arrived as political campaigns are heating up in advance of the Nov. 6 general election, providing fuel for candidates to debate an issue that already is controversial.

The think tank, the Center of the American Experiment, plans to run television and radio commercials, as well as billboards and YouTube. The center has launched a website, www.minnesotamines.com, to promote its Unearthing Prosperity report.

"We need these minerals," think tank president John Hinderaker said, for heavily used items such as smartphones. "Who is going to do it ... with more environmental sensitivity than Minnesota?"

Hinderaker said the center does not call for shortcuts in federal and state environmental studies.

"We really want to get popular support behind the idea that we need to develop these resources," he said.

Besides copper and nickel, Hinderaker and Isaac Orr of the center say the Iron Range also has major amounts of cobalt and a critical ingredient for titanium.

Representatives of the center said the new mining opportunities would provide a strong economic future to northeastern Minnesota. They said the industry would pump $3.7 billion a year into the economy and add nearly 8,500 jobs.

Environmentalists long have opposed copper-nickel mining because they fear mines would continue to pollute waters for at least decades after they close.

They most fear the Twin Metals Minnesota project that sits next to the Boundary Waters, but also are concerned about the proposed Hoyt Lakes-area PolyMet mine. Both are going through government environmental investigations before they receive permits to begin mining.

Such mines have poor records, according to Lukas Leaf of Sportsmen for the Boundary Waters.

"It is just too precious to risk," he said of the area, adding that he knows of more than a dozen mines that have failed to protect the land and water.

He said his concern goes beyond the environment to the area's economy. He is afraid mines and their pollution will drive people away, affecting the tourism industry.

Minnesota native James Stock, a Harvard professor, agrees. He said that preserving the environment would provide more tourism money than would new mines: 4,500 more jobs and up to $900 million more personal income.

Ely resident Paul Schurke, owner of Wintergreen Dogsled Lodge, said the economy would be more stable without the new mines. "Copper mining advocates use the promise of jobs to appeal to families feeling the impacts of a changing economy, but that promise rings hollow compared to the economic growth that would result from leaving the Boundary Waters alone."

Campaigning for work

It is something a good many former candidates are doing: Starting the next phase of their lives.

State Rep. Debra Hilstrom, D-Brooklyn Center, wasted little time getting over her loss in the Aug. 14 Democratic attorney general primary.

"This morning I am dusting off my resume and starting my job hunting," she tweeted first thing Monday, Aug. 20. "I am 50 and have 25 years of service starting with the planning commission, City Council and ending in the Legislature."

Vote numbers better

On second look, Minnesota voters did even better than it appeared.

The State Canvassing Board certified that 925,554 people voted in the primary, which Secretary of State Steve Simon says is the highest number since at least 1950.

Simon earlier announced that 22 percent of registered voters cast ballots, but that now is pegged at 23.3 percent; the highest since 1994.

Pence tickets online

Some room may remain for a visit Vice President Mike Pence is making to Bloomington, Minn., Thursday, Aug. 30.

Tickets for a general reception costing $150 or $2,500 for a photo opportunity with the vice president have been available at https://tinyurl.com/MNPence.

The location and time will be sent to people who buy tickets.

Little Minnesota impact

Jeff Phillips, a Minnesota Agriculture Department international marketing specialist, said new tariffs that went onto American goods sold to China on Thursday, Aug. 23, do not appear to have had much impact on state farm products.

However, the first round of a trade war with China continues to especially affect farm commodities such as soybeans, pork products and dairy. Many Minnesota agriculture leaders say if the trade war remains in force too long, China will turn to other countries to permanently provide them with the products.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.
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