Anti-Mining Special Interest Groups Are Trying to Kill Coal To Stop Mining in Minnesota

Yesterday the Minneapolis Star Tribune featured an article discussing how Minnesota Power, an investor owned electric utility in northern Minnesota, was relieved that the state’s iron ore mines were starting production back up after being idled due to low demand as a result of the pandemic.

The families of 1,700 miners are also relieved the mines are reopening because the wages paid by Minnesota’s iron mines are some of the highest in the state. But these jobs are at risk of leaving if it becomes too expensive to mine in Minnesota, and affordable electricity plays a big part in that equation.

As American Experiment detailed in the Spring 2020 issue of Thinking Minnesota, Minnesota Power operates the Boswell Energy Center, a large coal plant in Cohasset. This power plant is the backbone of northern Minnesota’s economy, providing the massive quantities of affordable energy Minnesota’s iron mines and paper mills need to stay competitive in a global marketplace. Anti-mining groups know this, which is why they are trying to kill Boswell through bad energy policy to stop all mining on the Iron Range.

The Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy  (MCEA) has been one of the most vocal anti-mining groups in Minnesota. They have brought countless lawsuits against companies proposing to develop Minnesota’s massive copper, nickel, and cobalt resources in an attempt to draw the permitting process out so long that companies eventually get fed up with the legal fights and leave to mine somewhere else.

MCEA also wants to shut down the Boswell plant, and *replace* it with wind, solar, and battery storage, even though this isn’t possible, and trying to accomplish this feat would result in an enormous increase in the cost of electricity for Minnesota families. It would also require a massive amount of copper, nickel, and cobalt, which MCEA doesn’t want to come from Minnesota.

This isn’t accidental hypocrisy, it is a deliberate attempt by a liberal Twin Cities law firm to make the business environment of northern Minnesota unworkable for any mines. MCEA doesn’t need to take PolyMet or Twin Metals to court if it is too expensive for them to operate a profitable mine in the state. It doesn’t need to start suing popular, familiy-supporting iron ore mines in Minnesota if it’s too expensive to operate them. This is why they are waging a multi-front assault on the underlying economics of mining in Minnesota. It’s also why we can’t let them win.

Minnesota is the top dog when it comes to iron ore production in the United States, but when it comes to global production, we area very small fish in a very large pond. In fact, data from the United States Geological Survey show that Minnesota is only about 2 percent of global iron ore production. This means that our producers have very little power over prices, unlike the power that Saudi Arabia has had over oil in the past, for example.

This means that any increase in costs for Minnesota mines harms them on the global stage, which is bad for the communities on the Iron Range. Because energy costs constitute 25 percent of all the expenses iron mines face, and this percentage is growing. Making sure the mines have access to affordable, reliable electricity is one of the best ways to make sure they are around for years to come.

It’s also important to note that China and India are large iron ore producers, and both of these countries are building a massive number of coal plants. For example, China is building the equivalent of 185 Boswells, and India is building 87. Each of these 272 coal plants will emit carbon dioxide, and they will help iron ore producers in China and India squeeze Minnesota out of the global iron ore game if we shut down Boswell.

Instead of mining our own iron ore and employing thousands of hardworking Minnesotans, liberal groups like MCEA would rather we lose these jobs and be forced to import our iron from abroad. Losing these jobs harms entire communities. As I wrote in Thinking Minnesota:

“The closing of a mine devastates the community around it, impacting churches, schools, businesses, and community groups. Parishioners have less money to support the church, school enrollment falls and funding disappears when people move their families to other areas to find employment. Small businesses on Main Street close their doors, and local charities like the Lion’s Club have fewer resources to help those in need.”

The Iron Range doesn’t exist simply to be a playground for wealthy urban liberals. The people of The Range are proud of their mining past, and present, and look forward to their copper-nickel mining future. They deserve to have high-paying, family supporting jobs in the mining industry and the pride that goes along with knowing they worked hard for what they have.

Minnesota has the minerals, but whether we access them, or not, will be determined by our political decisions.