Federal strategic minerals bill could affect future of Copper-Nickel Mining

By KBJR News 1

September 18, 2013 Updated Sep 18, 2013 at 8:26 PM CDT

Duluth, MN (NNCNOW.com) - From Hoyt Lakes to Babbitt to Ely, many people crave the high wage union jobs that copper nickel mining could create along with the tax revenue it would generate for the Iron Range.

"This is economic stimulus without costing the taxpayers a dime!" said Frank Ongaro of Mining Minnesota.

But it's the cost to the environment that others between the Mesabi and Vermilion Ranges fear.

Many environmentalists fear pollution from non ferrous mines could spoil the Superior National Forest and Boundary Waters.

Right now, congress is debating the Strategic Minerals Act; a bill that could shorten the time taken to approve Minnesota's proposed copper nickel mines.

"It would roll back the very laws the mining companies point to and say that they can meet." said Ian Kimmer of The Friends Of The Boundary Waters.

Mining supporters say that's not the case. They say it will just streamline the permitting process not circumvent it.

"We support that bill. We understand that locally, Mr. Nolan plans on supporting that bill." said Ongaro.

U–S Congressman Rick Nolan from Northern Minnesota says he will vote for the Strategic Minerals Act despite reservations over environmental issues which he feels can be resolved with amendments.

The stance disappoints many environmentalists.

"Congressman Nolan has repeatedly said and the Minnesota population overwhelmingly says that we should not roll back our environmental standards. Yet this bill does exactly that." said Kimmer.

The bill is expected to pass the house but the senate currently has no companion bill and the president has said he would likely veto the measure if it were to pass.

That's good news to environmentalists who fear sulfuric acid pollution in Northland waters.

Mine supporters counter that today's technology has put an end to the polluting copper nickel mines of the past.

"We'll do it better. We have strong standards in Minnesota. Our companies and anyone who wants to open will have to prove they will do it right." said Ongaro.

Environmentally concerned people say that proof will have to be overwhelming.

Dave Anderson