Minnesota's executive council -- a five-member body comprised of the Governor, Lt. Governor, Attorney General, Secretary of State and State Auditor -- will hold a much-anticipated hearing at 3 p.m. this afternoon on a controversial move to lease mineral rights out from underneath private property owners.

Josephine Marcotty's story in today's paper has the details:

Residents and cabin owners in what may become a new copper mining district near Ely say they were shocked that the state's century-old minerals law seems skewed to favor mining companies over property owners. It was also their introduction to a side of the Department of Natural Resources that they had never seen -- the one with a mission to promote mining.

"In a 21st-century democracy, it seems very 19th-century," said Todd Ronning, a woodcarver who owns forested land near Two Harbors and a summer cabin on Sand Lake near Isabella. "I'm surprised to see that it's my own state that seems to be the Goliath here."

While the potential for toxic pollution from the new copper-nickel mines has largely been the focus of controversy over the proposals until now, this hearing marks a new chapter. People who have been living quietly in the forests of northeastern Minnesota are now finding out that they have little power against companies who want to come drill and possibly mine on their land.

The situation with the state's mineral lease laws is confounding. Citizens can try to negotiate the terms of exploration and mining with companies, but if they fail to reach an agreement, the prospectors can still come onto their land and drill. Try selling a car when the buyer could just come take it from you without paying a cent if they wanted to:

Mineral rights were separated from surface property rights on much of the private land in that region of the state in the 1800s. Decades ago, the state required property owners to file claims for their mineral rights every five years, and also imposed a tax on the potential value of those minerals. When the claims weren't filed or the taxes weren't paid, the mineral rights reverted to the state.

Watch online

If you can't make it to the State Capitol this afternoon to observe the hearing, the Senate Media Services will be broadcasting it live over the Internet. Visit their website at 3 p.m. to watch.

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