Fighting for mining in D.C.

Local group makes its presence felt in the halls of Congress

by Tom Coombe -

Leaders of a grassroots pro-mining organization say they’re making progress in the nation’s capital - one meeting at a time.
Fight for Mining Minnesota made its presence felt in Washington, D.C. this week, as three members of the group - including former Ely Mayor Joe Baltich -lobbied members of Congress, Congressional aides and reached out to the Trump administration.
The visit wasn’t linked to specific legislation or a committee hearing. Instead, Baltich joined former Elyites and FMM leaders Cindy and John Stene to connect and reconnect with key decision makers.
“All of them gave us hope,” said Baltich. “They tell us ‘we’re moving, maybe not moving as fast as you guys would like us to but we’re moving.’ There are so many hoops to jump through, but we’re getting there.”
Mining supporters are working on several fronts to spur copper-nickel mining projects in the region, from supporting legislation that would aid the PolyMet project and defund a study that could lead to a mining ban on federal lands in the region, to appealing for presidential action that would revive the Twin Metals Minnesota project near Ely.
Reaching the White House was part of the focus this week.
“We don’t have a definitive answer but we’re closing the gaps,” said Baltich. “From what we’re determining, there are numerous attempts to get key people and personnel to solve this. We were at a meeting we spoke with a Congressman, and he’s in contact with people who speak directly to Trump.”
Cindy Stene added that “there seems to be a barrier, but we need to keep pounding on that brick wall.”
FMM and allies including U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan, who represents northeastern Minnesota, have sought presidential action to reverse Obama Administration edicts that blocked the renewal of Twin Metals’ exploratory leases and initiated a two-year process that could ban mining, for as long as 20 years, on more than 250,000 acres of national forest land in northeastern Minnesota.
Nolan and other supporters have charged the edict was unnecessary and circumvented existing permitting processes.
“The wrench thrown into the system was a nightmare,” said Balitch.
The delegation met with Nolan Wednesday and came away with what they termed positive news about the PolyMet project between Babbitt and Hoyt Lakes.
“We met for a great deal of time with Rick Nolan,” said Cindy Stene. “He’s just so committed to mining in Minnesota. He’s very positive about PolyMet moving forward. He’s done a great deal of legwork among his fellow Congressmen about the importance of mining in Minnesota and he feels very comfortable with their support. He mentioned there’s just one big hurdle left for PolyMet, the land exchange. It’s looking really good.”
FMM leaders also met with two Congressmen - Paul Gosar of Arkansas and Utah’s Bruce Westerman - who visited Ely and the Twin Metals site in June.
They also spent time Wednesday with U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who according to Stene “reiterated she fully supports Rick Nolan and his efforts in Congress.”
A hot topic in nearly all of the group’s visits was the recent New York Times magazine article on the mining issue and controversial statements made by anti-mining activists Becky Rom and Reid Carron of Ely.
“Everybody here knows about that article,“ said Baltich. “We keep hearing over and over again about what a terrible way it was to view people who work hard and keep our country rolling. The insinuation is the elitism that runs through the environmental movement.”
In a twist of irony, the FMM delegation crossed paths with anti-mining activists, who were apparently in Washington on a similar mission.
Baltich said they encountered Rom and Ely business owners Paul Schurke and Jason Zabokrtsky on a D.C. sidewalk.
Thursday’s docket included a visit with pro-mining U.S. Rep. Tom Emmer, a Minnesota Republican who has introduced legislation that could reinstate the permits held by Twin Metals and take funding away from the ongoing mining study.
“We heard numerous times, that for us to come down to Washington to meet with the Minnesota delegation and other people is a really important and worthwhile endeavor,” said Balitch. “If they don’t hear from us, it’s easy to conclude we don’t exist, or we don’t care or we’ve given up. You never realize how important these meetings are until you’re in the room.”
The current visit was timed to coincide with the end of the current Congressional session and FMM leaders say they plan to return in January.
“We’re touching base with politicians that are also fighting for mining and letting them know that we’re here, that we need their support, and to ask them what more can we do.” said Stene.