A story in this Sunday’s New York Times Magazine has exploded already simmering tensions between environmentalists and mining advocates on the Iron Range.

Reid Carron, a clean water advocate who lives in Ely, is quoted in the lengthy article — about the conflict over copper-nickel mining — disparaging mining advocates: “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.”

Mining and building trades unions were quick to fire back at Carron’s incendiary comments.

“The sentiments expressed by Carron very accurately reflect the way most anti-mining, anti-pipeline, anti-development groups really feel about the hardworking people of northern Minnesota. It disgusts me,” said Jason George, political director for the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 49, which represents more than 13,500 heavy equipment operators.

U.S. Rep. Tom Emmer, R-Minnesota, said in a news release: “I am embarrassed to hear fellow Minnesotans speak so disparagingly about our neighbors.”

This open rift between two groups important to the DFL coalition — environmentalists and the building trades unions — threatened to hurt the party’s chances in next year’s elections.

DFL Chair Ken Martin tried to contain the damage: “These judgmental comments wrongfully disparage thousands of hardworking Minnesotans. 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.”

Save the Boundary Waters, an environmental group of which Carron is a leader, apologized in a news release: “People who go to work in mines are some of the hardest workers in Minnesota. They rise before the sun, work long hours, and take pride and accomplishment that comes from having produced something of value. That is a not a life to be mocked or derided. For any comments that did so, we are truly sorry.”

Carron also apologized in his own, separate statement in which he characterized his remark as “disrespectful and untrue.”

“The people and the communities in northeastern Minnesota are treasures that deserve to prosper,” he said.