Here’s how you’d expect this to work, based on long-standing practice, our laws, and the rules and regulations we all agree to follow, lest we fall into chaos:
An entity identifies the presence of valuable minerals in the ground and puts together a plan to safely and responsibly extract those minerals so they can be used by all of us in our cellphones, cars and other daily necessities. Our government and regulatory agencies then carefully review the plan, gathering input from the public, experts and others and making sure the plan really will work and will comply with stringent state and federal environmental protection laws and other measures. Everyone agrees the review is so critical it can take years to complete; no one even balks at that.
One could assume, then, that by issuing the ruling they did last week — a ruling to pretty much kill a potential underground precious-metals mine near Ely, Minn. — the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service had concluded such a review process and had determined, scientifically or otherwise, that what was being proposed wasn’t possible or couldn’t be done in an environmentally safe or responsible way.
Such an assumption would be wrong. So wrong.
In this instance, a company, Twin Metals, hadn’t even proposed a specific mining project yet. There was no plan to review. The company was still exploring, determining what was underground and how it might want to propose getting it out. The exploration was being carried out via mineral leases that were first issued in 1966 and had been renewed as a matter of routine since then.
But the mineral leases were rescinded suddenly and prematurely last week. Why? Politics seems the likeliest explanation. Call it 11th-hour overreach by a lame-duck administration bowing to the wishes of environmental supporters before a new, less-friendly administration takes over.
U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan, who represents Ely and the rest of northeastern Minnesota, called the ruling “a real slap in the face” to the Minnesota Iron Range.
As Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton did in March when he used the state Department of Natural Resources to curb prospecting by Twin Metals on state lands near Ely, the federal agencies usurped a proven process, tossing it aside and pretending it doesn’t exist.
Was it any wonder Twin Metals immediately said it’d pursue legal action? Was it any wonder its officials already were looking forward to new leadership in Washington? The company has $400 million into what could be a $3 billion private investment in our state, a badly needed investment with the promise of nearly 1,000 good-paying, family-supporting jobs.
None of this is to suggest that those who stand opposed to a potential Twin Metals mine near Ely don’t have legitimate concerns. They do. Precious metals mining has a less-than-exemplary record. And the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness is near the site being eyed. If mining can’t be done in a way that protects water from pollution, it shouldn’t be allowed.
But the process, with its science and stringent reviews, has to determine that, not bureaucrats and politicians with questionable motives, incomplete information and political biases.
FROM AN EDITORIAL IN THE DULUTH NEWS TRIBUNE