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Gov. Dayton is beginning to see the light on mining

Yesterday, Gov. Mark Dayton said that the PolyMet copper-nickel mining project in northeastern Minnesota should be allowed to proceed if it meets environmental standards and financial safeguards. “I’ve always believed environmental protection and economic growth can be complementary objectives,” Dayton said after speaking at a cybersecurity conference in Minneapolis.

Minnesota needs mining jobs

Gov. Dayton’s position is what we at the Center have been saying. Minnesota needs mining jobs. As I wrote in the Duluth News Tribune in August,

According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, each job in mining and logging, where employment has fallen by 23.4 percent since 2000, generates an average of $447,603 annually in “gross value added.” By contrast, each job in health care and social assistance, where employment has increased by 60.8 percent in the last 16 years, generates an average of just $88,761 annually in gross value added.

As Minnesota’s labor force shrinks in years to come, continued per capita economic growth will reply on the remaining workers being more productive. Expanding employment in high productivity sectors such as mining can help towards that.

Minnesota needs a clean environment

In the Duluth News Tribune I told the story of the Silver Bay refining plant which was completed on the North Shore of Lake Superior in 1955.

Built to refine the ore coming from the Iron Range, the plant, by the late 1960s, was producing 10.7 million tons of pellets annually for shipment to steel mills in the East. By then, environmental costs were becoming apparent. The Reserve Mining Company, which ran the plant, was dumping 60,000 tons of tailings a day into Lake Superior. A large delta of tailings accumulated in the lake, and a 1970 report noted a murky “green water” stretching 18 miles.

Nobody wants to see a repeat of this catastrophe. If new, large-scale mining is to come to northern Minnesota, it must do so without damaging the environment.

Minnesota does not need snobbery

So, while some concerns about mining are perfectly valid, others are less so. The New York Times Magazine recently carried a fascinating article about mining in northern Minnesota. It quotes Becky Rom, head of the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters, and her husband, Reid Carron. “(Local miner) Danny Forsman drives to the mine in his truck, comes home and watches TV, and he doesn’t know this world exists,” says Rom. According to Carron,

“Resentment is the primary driver of the pro-mining crowd here — they are resentful that other people have come here and been successful while they were sitting around waiting for a big mining company,” Carron told me. “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.”

‘Diversity’ is a popular word these days. One wonders if Mr. Carron would sneer at others cultures in the same way he sneers at the working class, beer drinking, four-wheeling, snowmobiling folks, who lived and worked in Northeastern Minnesota before he retired from law practice in Minneapolis.

Everybody in Northeastern Minnesota is entitled to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, not just prosperous retirees like Mr. Carron. They are entitled to pursue the economic opportunities which will enable them to build similarly prosperous lives.

John Phelan is an economist at Center of the American Experiment. 

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