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Pro-mining hearing held on Range

by Tom Coombe

U.S. Rep. Pete Stauber and several Republican colleagues came to the Iron Range this week and touted efforts to jumpstart long-delayed copper-nickel mining projects.

Stauber held a field hearing of the House Subcommitee on Energy and Mineral Resources Tuesday at Mountain Iron, where members took testimony from three mining supporters including Ely area resort owner Joe Baltich.

Several common themes emerged, with mining advocates lamenting current permitting processes and contending that projects such as the Twin Metals Minnesota can be done safely and are needed to enhance the region’s economy.

Stauber decried “onerous permitting regimes and bad decisions made by activist administrations and of course endless litigation.”

He cited the nearly 20-year effort to permit the New Range Copper project, formerly known as PolyMet, near Hoyt Lakes, as well as the Biden Administration’s edict that effectively shuts down the Twin Metals initiative.

Stauber is taking action in Congress to move the projects along, steering legislation now approved in the House to streamline permitting processes, and aiming at reversing Interior Secretary Deb Haaland’s decision to withdraw thousands of acres of national forest land from mining development for at least 20 years.

“We can do both,” Stauber said of mining and environmental protection. “Follow the science and don’t move the goal posts.”

U.S. Rep.  Tom Tiffany (R-Wisc.) agreed and called on Senate Democrats, including Minnesota’s Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith, to take up Stauber’s permitting legislation in the Democrat-controlled Senate.

“It’s a great opportunity for the Senate to show some leadership,” said Tiffany. “Those U.S. Senators from Minnesota, I know there are other Democrats interested in getting some permitting reform. It’s a great opportunity for them to help northern Minnesota.”

Stauber took his colleagues on a tour of the New Range operation and said “they understand the opportunities this would bring to our nation, from national security to new jobs.”

Stauber said he has reached across the political aisle and has talked both Klobuchar and U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia) about his permitting bill.

“It may not be the exact language, but if it passes with 60 votes it will move permitting forward,” said Stauber. “Legislation to me is always the art of what’s possible so I am optimistic.”

Baltich testified in support of copper-nickel mining in the region and said it’s needed to bolster Ely’s economy.

“Today it’s evident in the empty homes and storefronts that now still line our streets,” said Baltich. “We are still struggling.”

Baltich called tourism “a feast or famine business,” and added “tourism alone will never carry the region - i t just can’t.”

The area’s waterways and environment have flourished despite decades of mining on the Iron Range, Baltich told the group, and touted technological advances.

“The year is 2023, not 1955,” he said. “Modern mining technology and local miners are fully capable of performing well at PolyMet and Twin Metals.”

Baltich said he worried about Ely’s future and added “I don’t want to have to rely on to get my celery.”

Stauber was joined by  Tiffany of Wisconsin and:

• U.S. Rep. Jack Bergman (R-Mich.);

• U.S. Rep. Larry Bucshon (R-Ind.);

• U.S. Rep. Mike Collins (R-Ga.);

• U.S. Rep Rob Wittman (R-Va.).

Republican spokesperson said Democrats on the subcommittee were invited to attend but declined.

Stauber, who is in his fourth term in the U.S. House, has been a persistent advocate for mining in northeastern Minnesota, including proposed Twin Metals Minnesota and PolyMet copper-nickel projects on the east end of the Iron Range.

Others testifying were Dean Peterson, geologist for Big Rock Exploration, and Jessica Johnson, a spokesperson for Talon Metals, which is looking to open a nickel  mine in Aitkin County.

About 150 people attended the hearing at Mt. Iron-Buhl High School, including a handful of protesters who criticized Stauber for not taking public input at the event.

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