Mining supporters plan boycott

by Tom Coombe -

State Rep. Jason Metsa minced no words.
“We’re tired of the bulls***,” the Virginia legislator said of efforts to derail mining development on the Iron Range.
With that, Range leaders kicked off a press conference where they announced a boycott of a July 18 public hearing in St. Paul on the controversial, proposed 20-year mining ban on over 234,000 acres of northeastern Minnesota public land.
“I’m not going down to St. Paul,” said county commissioner Tom Rukavina. “I’m saying come up to Virginia, come up to our hearing and look us in the eye and tell us what we do for a living is no good.”
Rukavina, Metsa and several other local officials - including Babbitt Mayor Andrea Zupancich - spoke at Wednesday’s event where Range officials said they’d sit out the St. Paul hearing and instead wait for a similar event July 25 at Virginia.
The hearings come as federal officials consider withdrawing public land from mining activity, a move that would essentially torpedo proposed copper-nickel mining development on the Iron Range.
Range legislators and other elected officials, as well as business and labor leaders, are fighting back in a coordinated effort that included this week’s press event.
Several speakers charged that it’s unfair to hold hearings on the mining ban away from the Iron Range.
“Why are they having a hearing in Ramsey County about a project in northeastern Minnesota?” asked Steve Giorgi, executive director of the Range Association of Municipalities and Schools.
Giorgi blasted a series of recent developments, including an Obama Administration edict that pulled mineral exploration leases held by Twin Metals Minnesota as well as the possible mining ban.
“To pull permits and stop environmental review is unnecessary , unacceptable and we’re simply tired of it,” said Giorgi.
State Rep. Rob Ecklund (D-Int. Falls), Ely’s representative in the Minnesota State House, found irony with federal officials going to St. Paul to gather public input.
Ecklund charged that while waters in St. Paul are “impaired,” “I’ll gladly swim in any water we have in northastern Minnesota, where we have been mining for 100 years.”
Ecklund added that “I’m deeply troubled by the moves of the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management. These moves are against the people I represent.”
Reiterating concerns she’s expressed previously, Zupancich called the withdrawal proposal “a death sentence for our community.”
Zupancich said she is fighting “for thousands of jobs” in northeastern Minnesota and that she’d stay away “from the farce of a public hearing in St. Paul.”
The elected officials found allies in business and labor during the event.
Marci Knight, a board member with the Laurentian Chamber of Commerce, spoke of the impact of mining on the Iron Range economy.
“We know that good mining jobs create a healthy economy where people are spending and shopping locally, sending their children to college and reinvesting in their communities,” she said.
Knight called for the Iron Range to unite “to preserve this cornerstone for future generations.”
Some of the sharpest comments came from John Arbogast, vice president of United Steelworkers Local 1938.
“I wake up pissed off every day,” said Arbogast, lamenting opposition to both copper-nickel and taconite mining. “The anti-mining groups have tried to kill all mining jobs on the Iron Range, not just copper-nickel. It’s time for all Iron Rangers to stand up and fight back.”
Giorgi called the Iron Range “an epicenter of mining excellence,” and said those opposed to copper-nickel mining projects such as the one proposed by Twin Metals are ignoring advances in technology and clean copper-nickel projects in Wisconsin and the upper peninsula of Michigan.
Of mining in northeastern Minnesota, Giorgi said “nobody does it cleaner, nobody does it better.”
Rukavina offered a history lesson of sorts, harkening back to 1964 and the approval of the taconite amendmeent, when over 86 percent of those voting said, according to Rukavina, “let’s give copper-nickel and taconite mining a break.”
While copper-nickel projects have been at the forefront of the current debate, Rukavina said there’s “an attack on our way of life,” and alleged that environmental groups are out to kill the mining industry on the Iron Range.
“For them to say they’re not after taconite mining, why did they sue over the Minntac expansion, why did they sue over Essar Steel even getting started?” asked Rukavina.