Minnesota Governor Considers Metal Mining Proposal

November 4, 2015


Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton has been touring metal mines in neighboring South Dakota and Michigan's Upper Peninsula as he decides whether or not to approve mining in northeastern Minnesota. The region has rich deposits of iron, copper, nickel, and platinum in a band adjacent to the Archean granite of Minnesota's Iron Range.


The state owns over 6,000 acres of land in the region. If the mining proceeds, it is estimated that the state could collect up to $2 billion in royalties in the coming decades. Due to recent declines in commodity prices, however, the revenue could be lower.


The state-owned property is categorized as "school trust lands." According to Minnesota's constitution, income generated by those lands is earmarked for the Permanent School Fund. It contributes about $60 per student to each school district in the state. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources projected that the school fund, which currently has assets of $720 million, could more than triple over the next 25 to 30 years if the mining were approved.


Environmentalists oppose the new mining because of concerns that it could lead to the formation of acid and acid rock drainage. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have created a 714-page Draft Environmental Impact Statement that says there would most likely be no serious environmental impact if correct procedures and regulations were followed. Environmentalists dispute that conclusion.


The financial status of PolyMet and Duluth Metals, two corporations that want to mine the deposits first, is a concern. They would have to meet strict environmental standards. There would also be significant costs for the final closure and remediation and long-term follow-up of drainage from leftover tailings and storage ponds. Glencore of Switzerland and Antofagasta, the world's largest copper miner, would be a partner. Its long-term guarantees and bonds would be necessary for approval.


Over two tons of fossil fuels, such as coal, oil, and natural gas, were burned for every person in the world in 2014. In response to concerns about global warming, legislators around the world are pushing for the use of nonferrous metals. Only 35 pounds per person are currently produced annually around the world.