Updating prosperity

Orr’s new report analyzes how mining will bring even greater benefits to Minnesota—and the obstacles that could thwart them.

American Experiment’s Isaac Orr in November released a new report that analyzes how updated public resource estimates show that the economic benefits of mining in Minnesota would be even greater than previously estimated. His report is a follow-up to “Unearthing Prosperity: How Environmentally Responsible Mining Will Boost Minnesota’s Economy,” which quantified the potential economic benefits of developing Minnesota’s vast resources of copper, nickel, cobalt, platinum, palladium, and titanium.

His new report, “Updating Prosperity,” emphasizes how new developments in the proposed PolyMet and Twin Metals mines are bringing our state one step closer to developing some of the largest undeveloped copper and nickel deposits in the world. The report also points out potential roadblocks that threaten that progress. “Updating Prosperity” can be found at AmericanExperiment.org. Below are some of the report’s conclusions.

Copper, nickel, and titanium mining could support 14,850 new jobs in Minnesota. Developing these resources would create up to 4,667 direct jobs in the mining industry, which pay an average of $98,000 per year, support 4,912 indirect jobs, and 5,271 induced jobs, for a total of 14,850 new jobs and $5.9 billion generated in annual economic output, according to the economic modeling software IMPLAN.

Tourism jobs pay much less than mining jobs. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average wage for a miner in St. Louis County, Minnesota was nearly $100,000 in 2019. These wages are more than twice the average wages for St. Louis County and 5.6 times more than jobs in the tourism and hospitality industry.

The “Harvard Study” isn’t a study, at all. Opponents of copper-nickel mining in Minnesota often claim the industry will be a net loss to the region compared to tourism by citing Harvard Economist James Stock’s letter to the U.S. Forest Service. But this was a personal letter, not an official study. More importantly, it arrived at its conclusions by ignoring the economic benefits of mining and assuming costs that are not supported by empirical data.

Tourism jobs increased in Marquette County, Michigan after the Eagle Mine opened. Tourism-related jobs increased in Marquette County, Michigan after the Eagle Mine began producing nickel and copper in 2014. This is the exact opposite of what mining opponents claim will occur.

It’s about much more than mining. Mining supporters are obviously excited about the economic benefits that will accompany more mining, but examining jobs numbers does not tell the whole story. Mining is a part of the regional identity of northern Minnesota. People are proud of their mining heritage and look forward to the prospect of providing our country with the metals we rely upon every day.

Politicized permitting processes threaten to preempt the industry. Many of Minnesota’s copper-nickel deposits would have been “off limits” due to the actions of the Obama-Biden administration, which canceled mineral leases in the Superior National Forest in December 2016. These mineral leases were restored by the Trump administration, but the permitting process may well become politicized again in the future.

High electricity prices threaten the industry. Mining is one of the most electricity-intensive industries in Minnesota, and proposals to mandate 100 percent carbon-free electricity by 2050 would make it too expensive to mine in our state.