VIRGINIA — There is a famous line in the iconic 1995 movie “Tommy Boy,” that goes something like this: “I can get a good look at t-bone by sticking my head up a a bull’s (behind), but I’d rather take a butcher’s word for it.”
While that might be true in some cases, Minnesota’s Eighth District Rep. Pete Stauber was going for the opposite lesson by inviting his colleagues in the Congressional Western Caucus to the Iron Range recently for a close up and personal look at all things mining and the people and places who make it all work.
That lesson wasn’t lost on U.S. Congressman Dan Newhouse, the CWC chair from the state of Washington, during his Feb. 10 tour of the region.
“This is the kind of thing that will allow me and the other members of Congress to speak as passionately as Pete Stauber does about something that’s very important to our national security,” Newhouse said. “We don’t just have to rely on talking points given to us — we know first hand because we’ve seen what’s going on here. We’ve seen the care and the science that goes into extracting minerals responsibly and the potential that we have up here.”
Newhouse was one of seven members of the Congressional Western Caucus, all Republicans, invited to tour the area and be a part of an evening mining summit by Stauber, who is the vice-chair of the CWC.
The group spent the day on the Iron Range, getting a first-hand education about the region’s iron ore industry, copper-nickel mining opportunities, forest industry, people, and communities during the visit.
The day started with an early morning forum in Grand Rapids, where the group spent time with forestry and timber resources industry leaders and stakeholders at the Timberlake Lodge Event Center and ended with an evening roundtable with invited guests from the mining industry at Iron Trail Motors Event Center in Virginia.
Inbetween, the group toured the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Drill Core Library in Hibbing and United States Steel Corp.’s Minntac Mine in Mountain Iron.
Others on the tour Thursday included U.S. Rep. Bruce Westerman of Arkansas, ranking member of the House Natural Resources Committee, who was visiting the region for the third time, Rep. Michelle Fischbach of Minnesota, Rep. Tom Tiffany of Wisconsin, Rep. Jerry Carl of Alabama, Rep. Jay Obernolte of California, and David Bernhardt, former U.S. Secretary of the Interior.
Representatives from the American Exploration and Mining Association, National Mining Association, MiningMinnesota, Iron Mining Association of Minnesota, labor, and community leaders, also participated in the visit.
There were about 100 people present during the invite only roundtable, which featured speakers ranging from elected officials to mining industry stakeholders.
According to information on its website, The Western Caucus, which is nearly three decades old, is made up of 60 members and advocates for rural policy issues throughout the West and beyond. Members work “to encourage responsible resource development and energy independence, increase access to our public lands and promote multiple-use, seek to protect our communities from wildfires by advancing active management of our forests, and support our nation’s farmers, ranchers, and agriculture industry with the water infrastructure that makes our way of life possible across the West.”
“We are going to have a vibrant, continuous mining community. There’s a lot of ore left and the expansion into the critical minerals. It’s going to be really exciting for this region. The members themselves (were) asking good questions. We talked about proposed economic activity, the potential. They (were) astounded by the economic impact that can be brought to these smaller communities,” Stauber said just prior to the roundtable Feb. 10. “(There were) people here from every industry including labor tonight. We support mining and they see what this current administration is doing. And how it is affecting the opportunities and the potential. The banning of mining on the Iron Range should never happen.”
The Iron Range tour followed a mining forum Stauber hosted in Washington D.C. in January featuring a number of Minnesota stakeholders who were flown out for the discussion, including St. Louis County Commissioner Mike Jugovich, Jason George, Business Manager and Financial Secretary International Union of Operating Engineers, Local 49, Brian Hanson, Chair, Jobs for Minnesotans, and Julie Padilla, Chief Regulatory Office, Twin Metals Minnesota, Mark Compton, Executive Director of the American Exploration and Mining Association and Heather Reams, President of Citizens for Responsible Energy Solutions (CRES).
During that forum, and the Feb. 10 roundtable, much of the discussion revolved around critical minerals mining and recent developments delaying projects in the area including Twin Metals, which has been on the receiving end of bad news from the Biden Administration as of late.
According to Western Caucus information, in October 2021, the Biden Administration requested a 20-year mineral withdrawal within the Superior National Forest in northern Minnesota, triggering a two-year pause on new federal mining permits and leases in the area. The action mirrors the Obama-Biden Administration’s 2016 action to initiate a mineral withdrawal in northern Minnesota.
Northern Minnesota is home to the world’s largest known undeveloped copper-nickel deposit. In January 2021, Stauber introduced the Saving America’s Mines Act to prevent the executive branch from eliminating mining jobs and economic activity in rural communities.
In January 2022, the Congressional Western Caucus and House Natural Resources Republicans hosted a joint forum to highlight the economic, national defense, and energy security benefits of mining in northern Minnesota and the development of the Twin Metals mine.
Just days later, the Biden Administration announced the cancellation of existing mineral leases for the Twin Metals Mine in Minnesota’s Superior National Forest.
The Twin Metals mine would tap into mineral resources like copper that are necessary for U.S. manufacturing, and officials believe the project would create roughly 750 direct full-time jobs and 1,500 indirect jobs. The project continues to undergo robust regulatory reviews and environmental permits.
Despite the recent setbacks, Stauber, for one, is convinced the mining of critical minerals in northern Minnesota will eventually be a reality.
“I think just follow the facts and the science and the truth and just allow the current processes that are in place to continue. Allow the process to happen because we have a process in place,” Stauber said, before the roundtable.
Later in the evening, addressing those gathered for the summit, Stauber reiterated his position.
“We will lead with critical mineral development. Every single company on this stage has an exciting project, whether it be on federal, state or private land. Every single company on this stage is looking to hire northern Minnesotans and develop the ore needed for energy, that keeps the lights on and our homes heated, technology that we use to connect our everyday lives, national defense to keep our country safe, and so much more,” Stauber said.
Newhouse said prior to the roundtable that the minerals needed to carry the United States into a future where climate change issues are a priority, should come from the ground in America and that the Iron Range and Duluth areas provide that.
“If we want to see a carbon free future, some of the critical minerals that are here in northern Minnesota, are going to be critical for us to achieve that. I think it’s important that we source those domestically and not rely on foreign sources that have, perhaps — I don’t want to point fingers at people — but perhaps questionable practices and questionable labor standards. And maybe not necessarily (our) allies. Not our friends,” Newhouse said. “That’s why it’s a national security issue as well, we want to have our future controlled by resources in our own country and we have that ability.”
The roughly two-hour mining summit at the ITMEC Feb. 10 featured questions and discussion with two different panels and the Western Caucus members, and a room full of invited guests representing the area.
The purpose, according to Stauber, was to highlight to the Western Caucus what mining in Minnesota has to offer. They discussed mining today and what the future holds for the area.
The first panel included local Minnesota mining leaders:
• Teresa Appelwick, President and CEO, Laurentian Chamber of Commerce.
• Frank Ongaro, Executive Director, Mining Minnesota.
• Kelsey Johnson, Executive Director, Iron Mining Association.
• Sandy Karnowski, Community and Government Relations Manager, Cleveland-Cliffs.
• Chrissy Bartovich, Director, Environmental, U.S. Steel.
• Mike Syversrud, President, Iron Range Building and Construction Trades Council.
The second panel consisted of national industry advocates:
• David Bernhardt, Former U.S. Secretary of the Interior.
• Mark Compton, Executive Director, American Exploration and Mining Association.
• Ryan Jackson, Senior Vice President of Government and Political Affairs, National Mining Association.
“We had the mine tour, we saw a mine blast, we talked to miners, community members, and members of the labor community that are really, really passionate about mining, as all of you are sitting in these seats. I can’t thank you enough,” Stauber said to open the event, before highlighting the importance of mining to the state and region.
“Northern Minnesota has been mining for over 130 years. We have a strong mining tradition supported by a world class workforce and community,” Stauber said. “Mining iron up here built America and defended (us) during two world wars. There is no infrastructure in our modern society without the contributions of companies like U.S. Steel.
According to Western Caucus information, northern Minnesota has mined iron for over 130 years, supplying the resources that built America and won two world wars. Currently, 80-percent of America’s steel originated as taconite on the Iron Range.
“In Minnesota, every single ton of ore mining means more funding for every single school in Minnesota and other economic development projects in our region,” Stauber told those in attendance. “And it’s no accident that our great cities, schools and communities are built along the veins of iron snaking its way along the northland.”
Newhouse told those in attendance that the mining potential in Minnesota should be a national priority — not just a priority for Minnesota.
“As we transition to more clean energy technologies and electric vehicles, why wouldn’t we want to source the minerals we need right here at home? Instead, the Biden Administration seems intent on making us reliant on countries like China and the Congo — it’s nonsensical and, frankly, offensive,” he said. “I couldn’t be more proud to stand by Mr. Stauber in these efforts, and I’m looking forward to continuing to work with him to tell the great story of Minnesota’s mining past, present, and future because it truly is vital to our national economy, our defense, and our energy security.”