RAMS – the Range Association of Municipalities & Schools is now entering its 81st year of service for communities, townships and school districts located in the Taconite Assistance Area. Formed in 1939 by some very progressive minded local elected officials to pool their resources in a fight for survival against the Oliver Mining Company, RAMS has been engaged in many battles over the decades. While membership in the organization has fluctuated over time, RAMS has been growing each and every year for the past 5 years and that is what enables our board of directors and our members to continue to make our voices heard on issues of regional importance, not only at the State Legislature, but also in the halls of Congress when necessary.
RAMS has as a board of directors, 22 publicly elected officials from a school board, township board or city council, as well as two school superintendents from the public schools located in the TAA. This board decides when it is appropriate for RAMS to speak out, to request a meeting with the Governor, or a Congressional legislator, or other officials. For the past decade RAMS has been a vocal, visible and engaged advocate to allow mining companies the right to secure state, federal or private land leases, conduct exploration and make a determination if a viable mine plan should be submitted to both state and federal regulatory agencies. RAMS has made it clear to any and all of these mining companies, that we support that right if the company is committed to a project that will “MEET or EXCEED all state and federal environmental permit requirements.”
PolyMet has followed all regulatory requirements, has gone through the most rigorous environmental review process the state has ever seen, and after 14 years, over $400 million private dollars of investment, multiple public hearings, over 87,000 comments, extensive independent professional reviews, plan revisions and the first ever financial assurance agreement with the State, was awarded a permit to mine copper nickel on the Iron Range.
This was a monumental achievement that could only be accomplished by a team of experts put together by Jon Cherry, PolyMet CEO. PolyMet made a commitment to local community leaders that they would be engaged in the process and development of this mine from beginning to production. PolyMet has opened their doors, their pocketbook and their project for any and all to learn about, criticize or support. PolyMet has a project labor agreement that will provide for area union workers from trades and labor to construct the plant and has agreed to a non-compete arrangement with the US Steel Workers once operating. If the employees choose to organize PolyMet will not interfere in the organizing process. Organized mine workers average about $80,000 annually so these are jobs that will retain and attract families to our region for generations to come.
Now the project is on HOLD. The Minnesota Court of Appeals has reversed and remanded the permit to mine and two dam safety permits in a recent court ruling. They have ordered a “Contested Hearing” which involves the assignment of an administrative judge to schedule a hearing and listen to people on both sides of this issue and then the judge prepares a report with recommendations back to the Commissioner of the DNR. The same commissioner who already determined that all the arguments, concerns, complaints have been heard and either dismissed as not rising to the level of consideration, or they have met with PolyMet and suggested an adjustment to the mine plan or process and has determined the mine plan now meets or exceeds all state regulatory standards..
This Appellate Court ruling has tentacles that are far reaching and will have a direct impact on ALL mining, agriculture, food processing, feed lots, shrimp farms and other industries if it is not appealed to the MN Supreme Court and corrected. Fortunately, PolyMet submitted an appeal of the decision to the Supreme Court on Tuesday, Feb 11.
A day later the MN DNR submitted an appeal as well. On Feb. 11th, RAMS joined a large, powerful consortium of groups to announce our displeasure with the court ruling and our gratitude to PolyMet for filing the appeal. Jobs for Minnesotans, MN Council of Trades and Labor, MN Chamber of Commerce, Professional Engineers, Ag Council members, USWA representatives as well as Majority Leader Senator Paul Gazelka and Majority Leader Rep Ryan Winkler were all present as well as the Iron Range delegation as we spoke as one voice on the potential devastating impact this ruling could have on the State of Minnesota as we try to compete in a global marketplace and our regulatory agencies have had their authority to issue permits undermined by this ruling.
While this situation is bad enough, we now have Congresswoman Betty McCollum introducing legislation that will ban copper nickel mining in the Superior National Forest and withdraw 234,000 federal acres of land permanently from mineral exploration or mining. Keep in mind within that Federal acreage there is 90,000 acres of school trust fund land and closer to a half million total acres that will be off limits to development forever, even though underneath the surface lies the largest known deposit of precious minerals in North America.
RAMS has taken a position of opposition to H.R. 5598, McCollum’s bill, but it passed the House on Feb 13. So far our U.S. Senators have refused to carry a companion bill in the Senate and it is likely, Mitch McCollum will add it to the pile of other House bills the Senate has not addressed but we must remain vigilant as these outside forces continue to interfere with what we do best. MINING for materials that built this nation, saved us during two world wars and provided quality high paying jobs all while protecting the environment that we know better as OUR BACK YARD!
ONE RANGE – ONE VOICE – FIGHTING FOR A BETTER TOMORROW
Steve Giorgi is the executive director of the Range Association of Municipalities and Schools.