Minnesota’s politicized permitting drives mineral processing jobs to North Dakota

Advocates of copper-nickel mining in Minnesota received bad news when Talon Metals announced it would build a $433 million battery mineral processing plant in North Dakota—instead of Minnesota. Talon chose to locate the facility—which will process the nickel-copper ore mined at its proposed Tamarack, Minnesota mine—in North Dakota because doing so would reduce the scope of environmental review and permitting for the Minnesota mining facility.  

Sadly, Talon’s decision to build the processing facility in the Peace Garden State is completely unsurprising because rather than following the science, Minnesota’s state government has politicized the permitting process for major projects. This politicization has introduced uncertainty into the permitting process, making it more time-consuming and expensive to develop new projects and create good jobs in the Land of 10,000 Lakes. 

There is no clearer example of how politicizing permits creates uncertainty in our regulatory process than Minnesota Governor Tim Walz’s decisions to delay the Line 3 oil pipeline replacement project on multiple occasions. 

As a candidate for Governor in 2018, then-candidate Walz told the Minneapolis Star Tribune that he was satisfied with the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission’s (PUC) decision to allow the project to move forward.  “The PUC did rule. We need to follow the process in place,” said candidate Walz. 

Shortly after taking office in 2019, however, Governor Walz changed his tune and instructed the Minnesota Department of Commerce to file a legal challenge against the pipeline replacement by arguing that Minnesota would not need the oil transported by the pipeline in the future if electric vehicle adoption increased.  

Fast forward to 2022, and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has demonstrated how embarrassingly incorrect this argument always was. Global oil supplies are tight, causing gasoline and diesel prices to soar. The Biden administration is draining America’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve and begging OPEC+ to pump more oil to keep costs somewhat in check. Lastly, electric vehicles constituted just 2.7 percent of all Minnesota vehicle sales in 2022, bringing their share of the total vehicle fleet to 0.4 percent. 

Governor Walz’s flip-flop on Line 3 was also bad for the environment because it meant leaving a corroded pipeline in the ground, increasing the probability of an oil spill. The delays were also largely responsible for the price tag of the replacement project ballooning to $4.1 billion, an increase of $1.2 billion compared to Enbridge’s initial estimates. 

The decision to delay Line 3 damaged Minnesota’s reputation because it showed mining companies, like Talon Metals, that our regulatory process could be manipulated to pander to project opponents even though the pipeline underwent a thorough environmental review. If Talon wanted clear, science-based standards, North Dakota presented a better business climate than Minnesota. 

Talon’s decision is a major loss for Minnesota because it means the 150 jobs at their mineral processing plant will instead go to North Dakota, but it also means that Minnesota could lose out on hundreds of high-paying, family-supporting, mineral processing jobs for copper-nickel ore mined in the Duluth Complex. 

Minnesota’s standards must be tough but fair. If project proposers feel the goalposts will be moved for unscientific reasons or their projects will be subject to endless litigation, then they won’t feel confident investing hundreds of millions of dollars in our local communities, and Minnesota will miss out on hundreds of value-added refining jobs, which is the exact opposite of what we should be striving for as a state. 

Minnesota will only be able to maximize the economic benefits of non-ferrous mining if we mine and refine these materials in our state. We need our leaders to understand that their actions have consequences.