Mining foes fan flames with remarks

by Tom Coombe -

Political fallout crossed party lines and reverberated across Minnesota last week over comments made by two of the leading opponents of proposed copper-nickel mining projects.
Democrats and Republicans and those on both sides of the ongoing mining dispute found common ground Oct. 13 in condemning remarks made by Ely area resident Becky Rom, who chairs the national Save the Boundary Waters Campaign, and her husband, Reid Carron,
A firestorm erupted over remarks they made in a lengthy feature published in the New York Times Magazine.
Carron is quoted as saying “Resentment is the primary driver of the pro-mining crowd here. They are resentful that other people have come here and been successful while they were sitting around waiting for a big mining company. They want somebody to just give them a job so they can all drink beer with their buddies and go four-wheeling and snowmobiling with their buddies, not have to think about anything except punching a clock.”
Rom, who earlier this year, was quoted as saying anti-mining forces would gain an advantage “one funeral at a time,” told reporter Reid Forgrave that Ely council member and mining advocate Dan Forsman “drives to the mine in his truck, comes home and watches TV, and he doesn’t know this world exists,” referring to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.
The article appeared in Sunday’s New York Times but was posted online Oct. 12.
Rom and Carron both issued public apologies within hours, calling their own remarks “inaccurate and untrue,” but by then a firestorm had erupted.
Elected officials and labor leaders offered blistering rebukes, and even mining opponents distanced themselves from statements that went viral, fueled in part by social media.
Jason George, political and special projects director for the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 49, said “it disgusts me. There is no other way to put it.
“In my opinion, and in my experience sitting through public hearing after public hearing listening to environmental activists dismiss and belittle construction jobs, the sentiments expressed by Rom and Carron very accurately reflect the way most anti-mining, anti-pipeline, and anti-development groups really feel about the hardworking people of northern Minnesota,” said George. “Minnesota’s blue-collar workers, the men and women I am proud to fight for, deserve better.”
Ely Mayor Chuck Novak said the remarks “didn’t come as any surprise to me.”
“I think, as anyone involved in this issue can relate, I and other supporter would say ‘this is their feeling,’” said Novak. “They expressed their true feelings Every once in awhile we let our guard down and get too comfortable and say something we really didn’t intend to get out in the public.”
Of the subsequent apology by Rom and Carron, Novak said “there just appears to be a total lack of sincerity - it was a damage control piece.”
Kelsey Johnson, president of the Iron Mining Association called “the mischaracterization of Minnesota iron miners, industry supporters, and students pursuing mining-related degrees egregious.
“These are dedicated, responsible, innovative people who certainly ‘know the world exists’ and work every day – including in their spare time – to make our world a better place,” said Johnson, pointing out recent fundraising and relief efforts by iron miners and others who work in the industry to aid those affected by recent hurricanes.
U.S. Rep. Tom Emmer (R), who visited Ely this summer and has introduced legislation aimed at jumpstarting the Twin Metals Minnesota copper-nickel mining project near Ely said “this nation was built on the backs of the American worker, and Minnesota was built on the backs of Minnesota miners. For some Minnesota families, mining is in their blood going back to the beginning of Minnesota’s statehood. These men and women are responsible for keeping our towns, our state, and our country alive. They are the ones we have to thank for providing the precious metals needed for our cell phones, computers, vehicles and wind turbines. Apparently, Save the Boundary Waters’ leaders think rather differently.
“All Americans, and all Minnesotans, have the right to say or believe what they will, but that is not the Minnesota Nice we are known for, and I am embarrassed to hear fellow Minnesotans speak so disparagingly about our neighbors. The next time Save the Boundary Waters leaders voice their opposition, I hope they take a minute to realize all they have thanks to the mining industry and the incredible workers who provided it to them.”
U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan also criticized the remarks, adding, “we are extremely proud of our miners and our heritage up on the Iron Range. They have made important contributions to our country, our communities, and our way of life.”
Nolan indicated his office had received an apology from Rom and Carron.
While copper-nickel mining advocates weren’t shy about expressing their outrage, the furor extended beyond the traditional battle lines in the ongoing dispute over copper-nickel mining.
The Save the Boundary Waters Campaign issued its own statement of apology while another anti-mining group - Conservation Minnesota - distanced itself.
“Reid Carron’s description of people who support copper-nickle mining is nothing short of disgusting,” said Paul Austin, executive director of Convervation Minnesota. “This is an important conversation that requires each of us to work to understand each other’s perspectives on the issue so we can reach a positive resolution. There is no place for demeaning fellow Minnesotans.”
Ken Martin, chairman of the Minnesota DFL Party, also issued a statement as the party looks to maintain a fragile coalition on the Iron Range.
Amid an intraparty battle between pro-mining union members and environmental interests that have stepped up opposition to copper-nickel projects, Martin said “These judgmental comments wrongfully disparage thousands of hard-working Minnesotans. There’s no question that the issue of mining in northern Minnesota is a contentious one. But there’s no room in the debate for sharp-tongued attacks on Minnesotans who work hard every day to provide for their families and support our state’s economy.
“Here in Minnesota, we value civility. We treat each other with respect. We must keep this debate healthy, productive, and focused on the issue at hand. Because at the end of the day, we all want the same thing: a better life for our family and a brighter future for our state.”
In an apology released to a Duluth television station and later sent to the Echo, Rom and Carron wrote that Carron’s was “disrespectful and untrue.”
“First and most important, the statement is untrue with respect to the thousands of people across northeastern Minnesota who work hard every day and who believe that developing copper mines will provide worthwhile economic opportunities for them, for people they care about, and for our communities,” they wrote. “We respect people who get up at 4:30 am to drive to work in Minnesota’s taconite mines. Second, the statement is untrue because it does not reflect what we think. Living in the Ely community, we depend on people all the time who we know hold a different view than we do on whether copper mining would be a good thing. When we do business with them, they are helpful and generous, and we treat each other with mutual respect.
“For Reid to say that people like that are sitting around waiting for a big mining company to give them a job or Becky to question if Dan Forsman has been into the Boundary Waters is disrespectful. We apologize for these statements.”
Novak said he was happy with the content and context of the piece, which compared and contrasted the battle over copper-nickel mining projects and disputes over whether Ely should pursue mining jobs or focus on an “amenities-based economy.”
The Ely Echo’s Tom Coombe is quoted in the article, noting the vast differences in perspective between the competing interests.
Novak said he found the article to be more fair than many that have been written about the dispute.
“I’m disappointed the focus is primarily on those two statements, when this is the first time I think that there was a fair article that gave sufficient ink to the pro-mining side,” said Novak.