Star Tribune op-ed: U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan: The green economy needs Minnesota mining
Mining copper and nickel on Minnesota’s Iron Range and addressing global climate change are compatible, complementary and essential to our way of life. We have the brains, the technology and the need to do both.
If we attempt to do one without the other, we will end up with neither (“PolyMet is just feeding Minnesotans a line on proposed mine,” July 21). The survival of humankind rests on our willingness to embrace all of the knowledge and resources at our disposal to reverse climate change — including the vast deposits of strategic minerals in northeastern Minnesota. We owe future generations no less.
In fact, there would be no viable green economy and no effective means to reverse climate change without mining. Consider the rapid development and deployment of electric and hybrid vehicles. The Iron Range already plays an important role in the production of the hundreds of pounds of high-strength steel required for every vehicle. Furthermore, every new electric car contains, on average, 165 pounds of copper, 9 pounds of nickel and 240 pounds of nickel-based aluminum. And every energy-efficient hybrid car requires about 110 pounds of copper.
Every new wind turbine generating electricity to recharge these vehicles contains, on average, nearly 200 tons of steel per megawatt and approximately 4 tons of copper. And keep in mind that America has one of the fastest-growing markets for wind power in the world. About 30 percent of all global wind-based electricity is generated right here in the U.S.A.
Every cellphone contains copper and palladium. Every compact fluorescent and LED light contains copper and nickel — as does every personal computer, iPad, television, e-reader, printer, fax machine, scanner, copier, keyboard, computer mouse and monitor. The list goes on and on.
In truth, a lot of people are comfortable having the minerals and resources necessary to enjoy technology and combat global warming as long as they can be mined in someone else’s backyard — in developing countries without environmental standards, living wages or worker safety protections. That’s disingenuous, wrong and damaging to our entire planet.
Why not mine these minerals right here, where we have the world’s toughest environmental regulations, state and federal laws, and financial assurances — all in place to ensure that mining is done the right way?
No one treasures our precious environment more than those of us who make our homes in northeastern Minnesota. That’s why we live here. And after 130 years of mining on the Iron Range, we’ve got the cleanest water in the state; unlike the Twin Cities, where you can’t eat the fish in many lakes, and unlike much of Minnesota’s rural farm country, where water tables have become so polluted that safe drinking water needs to be pipelined into homes from miles away.
Now with regard to my PolyMet land-exchange legislation to help facilitate copper and nickel mining on the Iron Range — the bill already has moved through the U.S. House Natural Resources Committee on a bipartisan basis. The measure has strong support in the House, and backing from Minnesota U.S. Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken.
The exchange itself has undergone seven years of rigorous environmental review and has been judged by the Obama administration’s Forest Service to be in the public interest. Make no mistake — it’s a wonderful deal for the public and the environment, with or without a PolyMet mining project.
To begin with, it resolves complex split surface/mineral estate ownership issues that prompted the exchange in the first place. As a result, the public will enjoy 6,690 more acres of beautiful wetlands, lakeshores, forests and wild rice waters in the Superior National Forest. In return, PolyMet will receive 6,650 acres that’s already surrounded by mining operations and infrastructure. PolyMet already controls the mineral rights to the parcel, which lacks overland access and isn’t being used for recreation or tribal treaty rights.
It’s also important to understand that the PolyMet project as a whole has been reviewed for more than 12 years by myriad state and federal agencies. All have determined that it can move forward with 21st-century, state-of-the-art protections in place for our water, air and land. Furthermore, the land exchange does not authorize any mining, nor would it interfere in any way with state and federal regulations and permitting that govern the mining of strategic minerals on the Iron Range.
Meeting the worldwide challenge of climate change requires bold, creative, common-sense actions, using the mineral resources we have to advance new technologies that reduce our carbon footprint and protect the environment. That’s what this PolyMet land exchange is all about, and why it should move forward without delay.