Do we really need to add to the division and distrust that already exists in our region over the issue of protecting the Boundary Waters from mining pollution? It’s a question worth asking after Rep. Pete Stauber’s recent testimony in Congress that repeated his vilification of supporters of an expanded buffer zone around the BWCAW as enemies of northeastern Minnesota.
“It’s about ending an industry that has employed Minnesotans and Iron Rangers for over 130 years,” Stauber falsely testified in the recent hearing of the House Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources. “And it’s about keeping opportunity, wealth, and economic development out of northern Minnesota.”
Yes, according to Stauber, anyone who worries about sulfide-based copper-nickel mining upstream of one of the BWCAW’s primary watersheds simply wants to see everyone in northern Minnesota live in poverty.
Stauber is not just attempting to mislead, he’s attempting to divide by deploying the kind of us vs. them demagoguery that has been part of the political playbook in our region for far too long. It wasn’t any better when that kind of nonsense was spewed by Iron Range DFLers.
Yet times have changed. Views in our region are not nearly as monolithic as they used to be. Many of the “enemies” that Stauber regularly attempts to vilify these days are his own constituents, people who have moved into the region and invested in permanent homes and businesses here. Small towns in rural America face many challenges, but the fact is, small towns that base their economies on outdoor recreation do better than almost all the rest. Communities that base their economies on mining invariably struggle.
But it’s hard to have a rational conversation about our future when we have politicans who routinely vilify those who see things differently. We have enough division and hate in this country without our so-called “leaders” fomenting more of it.
Rep. Stauber knows that Rep. Betty McCollum’s bill to expand the mining buffer zone by 225,000 acres will do nothing to end “an industry that has employed Minnesotans and Iron Rangers for over 130 years,” yet he makes this false statement anyway. That says more about him than the people he’s targeting.
The bill in question won’t impact any existing mines and it specifically does not prohibit iron ore or taconite mining in the affected area. In case Stauber is unaware, that’s the industry that has employed Iron Rangers for more than a century.
Stauber says opponents of sulfide mining just want to deny economic opportunity to northern Minnesota residents, a statement that is both presumptuous (he reads minds, now?) and flat-out wrong.
Here’s a fact: It is supporters of wilderness protection who have brought most of the new economic opportunity to the Ely area in recent decades and who now employ a significant percentage of area residents. Far more residents of Ely work in wilderness-connected jobs than work in mining, and it’s those jobs that are threatened by sulfide-based mining. And we’re talking about more than outfitters, motels, and wilderness-edge camps. As the wilderness and the experiences it provides attract more people to our area, a certain percentage opt to buy land, build homes and businesses, impacting a long list of good-paying economic sectors, like construction, excavating, finance, building supplies, insurance, and home furnishings.
As we documented in our 2017 report, “Ely’s Golden Goose,” townships surrounding Ely largely power its economy, and most of those residents, both permanent and seasonal, are highly skeptical of sulfide mining. While a sulfide-based mine would undoubtedly generate new income in the Ely area, it risks undermining many of the sources of economic activity that currently provide even more income to the area and have a greater opportunity to grow over time.
A pair of Harvard economists reached similar conclusions, finding that in the vast majority of scenarios they examined, the income losses due to a new mine near the BWCAW would exceed any income gains from mining within just a few years.
Yet it’s nearly impossible to have a rational, evidence-based debate on the merits of the issue when our region’s politicians are actively working to further divide and inflame residents of the area, rather than searching for common ground. Unfortunately, Rep. Stauber appears to be taking his cues from some of the most radical elements in his party, deploying the kind of hateful rhetoric we’ve seen from the likes of his political pal Paul Gosar, the white supremacist congressman from Arizona, or Marjorie Taylor Greene, the hate-spewing firebrand from Georgia.
We’re divided enough in northern Minnesota. We don’t need any help from politicians who spew falsehoods for political gain.
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