Legislators back Twin Metals

Bakk, Ecklund say they’ll press governor to issue permits

by Tom Coombe
Lunch was served just before noon Monday at the Grand Ely Lodge, but it took almost another two hours to get to the main course.
That’s how long it took before the annual legislative meeting in Ely veered to the area’s most contentious issue - the copper-nickel mining project proposed by Twin Metals Minnesota.
DFL legislators Tom Bakk and Rob Ecklund, who both support the project, acknowledged the opposition they face within their own party on the issue.
“We’re fighting the anti-mining folks every day down there, and you know who they are,” said Ecklund, an International Falls Democrat who represents the Ely area in the State House.
Bakk, the Senate Minority Leader, pushed back against suggestions that Range Democrats aren’t doing enough to support the Twin Metals initiative.
Responding to a request by local mining advocate Nancy McReady that area DFLers advance a resolution opposing the reinstatement of a two-year study of the Twin Metals project, Bakk said that resolutions to Congress by state bodies are merely symbolic in nature.
“The big joke is they go into a circular file - they have no effect,” said Bakk.
Bakk said he’d rather focus his efforts at the state level and working with Gov. Tim Walz to make sure permitting moves forward once Twin Metals submits a mine plan, perhaps in early-2020.
“The more immediate thing is that once Twin Metals submits a mine plan, that the governor doesn’t get in the way of that,” said Bakk. “There we can actually have some impact.”
Bakk told area elected officials, community leaders and others in an audience of about 50 at the Grand Ely Lodge that Walz, a Democrat is facing “a tremendous amount of pressure not to let Twin Metals get started on the review process.”
“The truth is the environmental review process is not intended to stop projects,” said Bakk. “It’s intended to mitigate impacts. Once they start down that road it’s pretty hard to stop. Now it might take a decade or more but the process isn’t intended to stop the project. The challenge is going to make sure the Walz administration gets its departments working on the permits once they have a mine plan. There I think we can have an impact.”
McReady, president of Conservationists with Common Sense and a prominent area Republican, endorsed the Trump Administration’s decision to curtail the study launched by the Obama Administration.
Mining opponents have gone to Congress in an attempt to reinstate the study, which came with a moratorium on mining development in the affected area.
“This will be a job killer if the two-year study has to be continued,” said McReady.
McReady was critical of U.S. Sen. Tina Smith and Amy Klobuchar, both Democrats, who have supported reinstatement of the study.
She asked Range Democrats to take action in St. Paul, but Ecklund said the effort would be fruitless.
“I’d love to see a resolution but it would never pass the House,” said Ecklund. “So it would be a waste of time for me to introduce it. It’s as simple as that.”
Mark Phillips, commissioner of the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board and a Walz appointee, was sharply critical of the push to reinstate a study - which would explore environmental and economic impacts of potential copper-mining projects near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.
He pointed to previous “generic” environmental impact studies and said “they never end. That’s the intent of this - a never-ending study so nothing can ever happen.”
Phillips told McReady “I appreciate you fighting this. This is not the way to review projects and do good environmental work no matter which side you’re on. It’s never good policy to have a study on a non project, because there are so many variables you never come to any conclusions.”