As a born and bred Cuyuna Ranger, I spend a lot of time talking mining with my colleagues out in Washington. I tell them that up on the Range, mining is who we are. It’s in our blood, our history and our way of life.
I explain that mining is about jobs. Mining is a big job that drives thousands of jobs. Two-thirds of all the iron ore used to make steel in the United States is mined right here — a capitol investment of more than $4 billion dollars. Mining puts food on tables, kids through college and money in the bank.
I share a little history. Mining’s “Greatest Generation” won World War II. Mining’s unions created a middle class that’s built thriving businesses, schools and communities.
I invite them to join all of us, and the thousands of visitors from all over the nation, who enjoy our clean air, clear lakes, pine forests, hunting, fishing and camping. No one appreciates the great outdoors more than us Rangers. It’s a big part of the reason we live here, and we will never do anything to jeopardize our environment. I also remind our friends from out of town that the Range is our home. And mining is what we do.
We are sitting on one of the largest iron ore deposits on the planet — and, geologists tell us, quite possibly the world’s deepest untapped reserves of strategic minerals critical to America’s future technology development, consumer products industry and national security for the next century and beyond.
So what does the future hold for mining and for the Range families, communities and businesses that depend on it?
I’m convinced the future is bright. Just how bright will depend on our success in meeting four big challenges I’ve put at the top of my agenda as congressman.
Grow Jobs and Protect
We need to recognize that we are long past the days of having to choose between good mining jobs and a clean environment. We have the brains and the technology to do both.
Since taking office, I have toured every one of our major Range mining operations, meeting with company leaders and workers alike. And they all tell me the same thing: “We love our jobs and we love living here in God’s country. And we won’t do anything to harm either one.”
The controversy over haze in Voyageurs National Park and the Boundary Waters is a case in point. The mining companies are willing to do whatever is necessary to help reduce haze. But installing new haze prevention technologies and equipment requires study and time. Those of us who are not mining experts need to realize that “one size does not fit all.”
When I met with top EPA officials in Chicago this spring, I urged them to allow us a few more months to get it right. EPA relented, and the courts have since upheld our position. We will never back down from our national environmental goals, and we will deal with haze as fast as we can — the right way.
Speed Up Permitting
The permitting process is broken — overwhelmed by needless delays costing thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in economic development. Minntac, Keetac and Mesabi Nugget are waiting on federal or state permits for projects requiring enormous new investments.
In meetings at the highest levels of the Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, I have repeatedly pointed out that no business can be expected to invest and plan for the future when permitting requirements are subject to so many unnecessary and unpredictable delays and changes.
I am supporting federal legislation to streamline the permitting process, while working to assure strict, fair and timely environmental review.
Improve Highways and Infrastructure — Without Undue Interference
The controversies surrounding the Highway 53 rerouting project and the Highway 169 improvement project — both of which involve mining communities and access to mining resources — illustrate what happens when the state and federal governments get in the way of common sense.
Earlier this year, I invited Minnesota’s new transportation commissioner, Charlie Zelle, and his top planning staffers to join me in visiting both sites, and meeting with local business and civic leaders and residents of the Virginia-Eveleth metro Range communities. Then I traveled to Chicago to meet with EPA officials and quite frankly tell them that the agency was overreaching in becoming involved with issues best left to highway planners.
As a result, EPA consented to bow out of both the Highway 53 and 169 projects, and Commissioner Zelle has agreed to take the so-called ‘Western Route’ option for Highway 53 off the table. The point is, state and federal agencies can be good partners as we improve infrastructure around our mining communities. But nothing should replace good old-fashioned common sense.
Research & Education for the Future
Mining has rapidly evolved into a highly complex 21st Century industry, and we need to build a system of world-class education and research — right here on the Range — to support the industry, protect the environment and meet America’s national security and consumer needs. Institutions like Mesabi Tech, Itasca Community College, NRRI and UMD are doing groundbreaking work, and we can do more. Much more.
I will be visiting with Rangers in the coming months to discuss some big ideas on how we move forward.
And finally . . .
I will never forget my Range roots and I’m proud of the role Minnesota’s Iron Rangers played in building America and helping to win two World Wars. I’ll work my fingers to the bone to insure we continue to have a vibrant mining industry that provides a solid standard of living for the hard working families of the Iron Range. And I’ll work just as hard to protect the great outdoors we all enjoy.
Rick Nolan is Democratic 8th District U.S. representative. His home is in the Brainerd area.