Enviro activists behind Obama’s 234,000-acre job-killing Minnesota land withdrawal

Rom’s lobbying in Washington directly led to the Obama administration denying renewal of Twin Metals leases in December 2016, and in January 2017 to the proposed withdrawal for a 20-year term of 234,000 acres of National Forest System lands in the Rainy River Watershed of the Superior National Forest.

CWCS Newsletter

What/Who brought about the 234,000-acre land withdrawal?

We have all wondered what led to the Obama Administration’s executive order for a 234,000-acre land withdrawal without any input from city, county or state officials, or other public comment period.

Thanks to the research of Gerald Tyler, Chairman of Up North Jobs in Ely, Minnesota he has found the connection to Becky Rom, Vice-Chair of Northeastern Minnesotans for Wilderness, and her arguments on issues are without merit.

The three-year scientific review of the proposed Twin Metals mine was not site specific, the review was not made in connection with the development of a mine and the submission of a connected mine operating plan.

The USFS study begun by the Obama administration in 2016 was cancelled by the Trump administration in September 2018 because it was immaterial, following the decision by the U.S. District Court in Alaska that Pebble Mine LLC had the right to complete its prefeasibility study and submit an application to receive a mine operating permit.

The U.S. Census Bureau, Department of Employment & Economic Development and U of Minnesota/Duluth data conclusively demonstrates that the region’s economy would benefit with the development of copper-nickel mines in the Arrowhead region.

The strategy employed by the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters is intended to preemptively quash Twin Metals proposed mine before it can complete its pre-feasibility studies and submit an application to obtain a mine operating permit. Rom is employing the strategy employed by another anti-mining Minnesota based environmental organization that resulted in a moratorium banning mineral exploration in the Superior National Forest for six years.

In 2006, then Forest Supervisor James Sanders briefed Duluth Metals, Twin Metals Minnesota and Encampment Resources, LLC in Duluth, who were seeking mineral exploratory permits to explore in the Superior National Forest (SNF), telling them that if the USFS issued such permits without preparing an Environmental Impact Statement, that the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy (MCEA) intended to file a lawsuit to prevent the issuance of the permits. The USFS then imposed a moratorium banning mineral exploration until an Environmental Impact Study was conducted. The moratorium was not lifted until September 2012, almost six years after the prospecting permits were first denied.

Rom and several of her anti-mining supporters continued with their efforts to pre-emptively quash Twin Metals proposed mining project and made arrangements to meet in Washington with USFS and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) officials. On September 8, 2014 Rom emailed the office of Janice Schneider, then Assistant Secretary for Land & Minerals Management, Department of the Interior, writing:

“As you know, many of us in Minnesota are encouraging the BLM and Interior Department, as well as she US Forest Service and US Department of Agriculture to study and care- fully consider the full range of negative impacts that would result from sulfide-ore mining (copper, nickel, platinum, and palladium) now being proposed for the Superior National Forest in Minnesota. ” ”We would like to request a meeting with Assistant Secretary Janice Schenider”.

“In addition, we would like to discuss proposed extensions of two federal leases held by Twin Metals. Our attorneys from Jenner & Block will attend the meeting with me.” “We believe that it would be helpful for the Assistant Secretary to hear from the members of the public about concerns of the Twin Metals mine proposal . . .”.

Rom’s lobbying in Washington directly led to the Obama administration denying renewal of Twin Metals leases in December 2016, and in January 2017 to the proposed withdrawal for a 20-year term of 234,000 acres of National Forest System lands in the Rainy River Watershed of the Superior National Forest. Emails from Senator Amy Klobuchar to then-Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, published by The Wall Street Journal, criticized the withdrawal process and the political motivations driving the Obama Ad- ministration’s decision-making. More troubling, Klobuchar evidently believed that the EIS was started with a predetermined conclusion that the withdrawal be for the maximum period al- lowed under law. Klobuchar’s emails suggest that the Obama Administration misled Congress while acting in the interests of unnamed “activists” to initiate a bad faith environmental review designed to reach a predetermined outcome.

Klobuchar specifically identified comments to that effect made by then DOI Secretary Sally Jewell, who had deep ties to the outdoor recreation industry which opposed the mineral leases at issue. Yet Klobuchar did nothing to stop the Obama Administration or to inform her constituents.

Rom claims the region would perform dramatically better as to jobs and income without copper mining. Becky Rom claims tourism can sustain our communities. Tourism isn’t now and never has been the engine driving the region’s economy. Mining has been conducted in Northeastern Minnesota for 130 years and has supported our schools with production taxes and royalties, and contributed to job creation in mining related industries. The Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development found that the average annual wage for a northeastern Minnesota mining job in 2018 was $99,009, while the average tourism industry wage in north- eastern Minnesota was $22,412. Ely’s economy began to decline with the closing of the area’s last iron ore mine, the Pioneer Mine, in 1967. At that time the enrollment in the Ely School District was 1775. Enrollment today is about 550. The population of Ely then was about 5,400.

Ely’s population today is 3,450. A logical and compelling argument cannot be made that copper-nickel mining, or even the prospect of such mining, harmed our economy. Rather, it is the lack of well-paying jobs that is contributing to the decline of the region’s economy.

In 2017 Minnesota’s median household income was $68,388. The medium household income of Iron Range Cities was much less than the state of Minnesota as a whole. Ely’s median house- hold income for the same year was $35,288, just 52% of that of the state; Virginia, $35,150, 51%; Babbitt, $42,417, 62% and Hibbing, $44,659, 65% of the state as a whole.

Poverty data statistics point to the decline of the region’s economy. In 2012, the St. Louis County poverty rate was 16%, the 10th highest in the state, while Minnesota’s poverty rate was 11.2%. By 2014, the St. Louis County poverty rate had risen to 17%.

In 2015, Minnesota’s poverty rate was 10.2% while the poverty rate in St. Louis County had declined slightly to 16%. Duluth’s poverty rate was an appalling 21.5%, and Hibbing, 18.4%.

In 2016, Minnesota’s poverty rate was estimated to be 9.9%, while the St. Louis County poverty rate had declined to an estimated 13.4%.

Mining supporters recognize that tourism is an important part of our region’s economy but contends that it will not sustain our economy. At one time there was passenger train service to Ely and airline flight service by Mesabi Air Lines. Neither is available today. Four grocery stores served Ely, today only two. Two lumber yards served Ely, today one. Our hospital offers medical care, but today ECBH struggles to exist and doesn’t offer major surgery or maternity care.

Especially alarming is the number of businesses in Ely that have closed their doors during the last 10 years. Three restaurants didn’t reopen for business in the spring of 2018. Previous to that, the State Theatre, a video rental store, Pizza Hut, Hardees and Kats Liquor closed their doors. The Portage Bar, the Moose club, The American Legion and the VFW have all closed their club’s doors in Ely. County Wide Insurance announced that they will close their agency office in Ely at the end of August. The owner of Safe Ride Taxi service announced he was going out of business, as well as the owner of Ely’s only bakery and the Kess Art Gallery. The Bowling Alley closed its doors this spring, as well as Shopko and the Family Dollar store. Three consignment shops have closed. Wells Fargo Bank sold their drive-in banking facility. These are not signs of a thriving economy.

The Twin Metals mining project will generate significant tax and royalty revenue on School Trust Lands supporting state and local government, and the education of 950,000 Minnesota students. The mine is projected to employ 700 people and create 1,400 jobs in mining related industries. Wilderness visitors and natural resource-based industries are the foundations that built Northeastern Minnesota.

Becky Rom is campaigning to conduct or complete still another unneeded Environmental Impact Statement study and a moratorium banning mineral development in the Superior National Forest while the study is conducted. What is needed is the support of the legal regulatory process and allow Twin Metals Minnesota to complete their studies and submit their application to obtain a mine operating permit. By working together, we can continue to protect our clean water and offer jobs that enhance the economies of our region’s communities.

CWCS (Conservationists with Common Sense) is based in Virginia Minnesota

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