I’m not going to talk about all my passions — just one. One of my privileges of being both a ‘Cities’ person for decades and having a lot of affiliations with social justice and environmental justice groups, and the other being a Northern Minnesotan who returns home to Northern Minnesota, in a mining hometown.
So, out of love of life, connection, and all the communities that are one with water, I hope for statewide policies that would work toward justice and care of our waters. My understanding is limited, but I keep expanding it. It leads me to the conviction that justice and life will be benefited more if Minnesota is led by people from the Democratic Party, instead of people from the other party. But I don’t want to alienate any republican-leaning people in this room, because we have got to listen to each other. I need to listen to you on issues that I’m going to raise, as well as to listen to people on the left who have information I might be lacking.
So, on to the bad news for causes I hold dear.
Distrust between people in varied areas of Minnesota and dismissal of the voices of others is threatening our future. In this initiative, I am trying to reach across Northern Minnesota communities and the Twin Cities communities, to increase communication between, and foster understanding that might lead to breakthroughs on things that we seem to be totally stalemated on. The one that I’m really addressing is mining. If people in northeastern Minnesota and the urban centers can’t begin to feel more respect for one another, the northern part of the state is going to become increasingly red. They will join the suburbs and the farms to turn both houses and the governor’s mansion red with them. And then I think the life support and justice causes that most of us in the room are working to further, will not go as fast. We’ll have more trouble. So that’s why I’m talking about this and I’m talking about it for this election year.
Many people that I know in the Cities equate mining with copper nickel mining. It’s something that doesn’t exist in Minnesota. It might, but it is more complex than the sound bites you hear, and that’s not my topic today. Because I have only five minutes, I’m generalizing outrageously. However, most people on the range where I’m from think of city people as anti-mining and mostly city people just talk about sulfate and how they hate it. OK, and that means anti-taconite mining too. They hear environmentalists making some statements that are false, some that they feel are heartless, and some that sound elitist. The city doesn’t look very good to my range friends.
Not all of them. But, I mean, I’ve had some of these opinions myself. And truth be told, some of us in the North are like that.
But there are some issues that I think we could begin to come together on. Taconite mining is one of those. Taconite is iron. The Iron Range saved — I’m not so proud of this, but many are — World War II, because that’s where the steel came from. All steel is made of iron, and right now our iron comes from taconite. Think of your reusable coffee mug, your induction cooktop, your city bus, and the bridge over I-35W. They’re steel.
But the problem is that the taconite business is in big trouble. The way we process taconite from Minnesota is hugely climate-harming. It is on the way out, and if Minnesota doesn’t change its taconite mining it will lose the mine. However, there is new technology to correct the climate problem. We’ve got to switch from one kind of furnace to another. That means we have to switch from taconite pellets to DRI (direct reduced iron). You don’t have to understand that, but if you want to talk about this to other people, you have to get some knowledge about it.
The mining companies in Northern Minnesota want to make these changes. They know that if they don’t, they’re going to go out of business. They’ll lose — we’ll lose — almost all the jobs that support northeastern Minnesota, and we’ll lose the taconite industry if we don’t change.
It’s possible there are plans to switch to DRI in Minnesota. It would create many jobs, and it would save even more jobs, and it would do a lot of work to save the climate because making steel is hugely climate-damaging the way it’s done now.
People in the North are frustrated because they don’t feel like city people are talking about this at all, they don’t see it coming up in the newspapers — they only see the other kind of mining. And it’s pretty important.
It’s time for environmentalists to not just hate miners, and miners to not just hate environmentalists. I’m one of both of them, so kind of I hate myself at times, but I gotta stop. Part of stopping is daring to talk to you all about this. I’m from Babbitt. I’m in the heart of Twin Metals.
Then we might save the state. So, join me to consider this culture-crossing and a bit scary conversation.