The simple truth is, if it doesn’t come from Mother Earth, it probably doesn’t exist. If we as Americans want to enjoy the benefits of food, agriculture, technology and mineral extractions, we have a profound moral and ethical obligation to pursue them here in America with good paying jobs and the best safety and environmental protections in the world. The morally questionable alternative is to extract these resources from third-world countries with little or no environmental standards and unparalleled human exploitation.
In the process of acquiring strategic minerals, we must create good paying jobs with benefits while at the same time protecting our precious environment. If we attempt to do one without the other, it will have disastrous consequences for both. Recycling is, of course, imperative, but it is not the ultimate solution, given the rapidly expanding world population and growing demand for ore and strategic minerals.
Furthermore, it’s an indisputable fact that strategic minerals – the iron ore, copper, nickel, palladium, polonium and other minerals – are essential to our national security, our economy, and our way of life. These minerals, over just a few generations, have won two world wars and facilitated the rise of technology that led to the doubling of life expectancy and the creation of the greatest middle class in the history of the world. Just think of the thousands of appliances and devices that power our everyday lives – cell phones, computers, batteries, hard drives, TVs, tablets, printers, lightbulbs – the list goes on. Every one of those devices requires strategic minerals.
Moreover, strategic minerals are vital to building new, “green” technologies that will allow us to fight climate change – perhaps the greatest challenge of our time and threat to our survival. For instance, to build a hybrid car, you need more than one ton of iron, steel, copper, nickel, and nickel-based aluminum. Unless you’re willing to give up your car, your phone, your TV, and essentially go off the grid, your way of life depends upon these minerals. The question then becomes: Where should our strategic minerals come from?
One strategy is to import our strategic minerals from third-world countries where mining projects have little or no environmental regulations and horrific human exploitation, where six-year-old children are sent down into underground mines. Another strategy is to exploit these countries through military conquest. In fact, nothing better illustrates the importance of mining at home than our situation in Afghanistan, where President Trump has justified prolonging our horrific, costly, 17-year long war in order to plunder Afghanistan’s strategic mineral reserves (New York Times, 7/25/17, “Trump Finds Reason for the U.S. to Remain in Afghanistan: Minerals.”). Quite frankly, that notion is unconscionable.
Putting the Afghanistan conflict into financial perspective, we need to also ask ourselves how many trillions of dollars and thousands of lives we are willing to sacrifice in order to secure essential ore and minerals – when we have the resources to extract them safely with good paying jobs right here in America. From 2001 to 2017, the Afghanistan war cost taxpayers an estimated total of $1.07 trillion – and that’s just one part of the 7 trillion that U.S. has spent in these endless wars of choice (Forbes, 8/24/17, “The Financial Cost Of U.S. Involvement In Afghanistan”). With about 120 million American taxpayers, the cost of the Afghanistan war comes out to $8,916 per taxpayer. That’s right – the average taxpayer in America has paid nearly $9 thousand towards the war in Afghanistan over the last 16 years.
And that’s not even to speak of the incalculable cost in blood and lives to both the American and the Afghan people. Over the course of the war, 2,403 U.S. troops and 31,000 Afghan civilians have been killed. Therefore, we must pose the question to ourselves and our government: Why are we continuing to put the lives of our U.S. soldiers and innocent Afghan civilians at risk for the sake of plundering precious metals that are available right here in America – and right here in Minnesota?
Here’s the truth of the matter: Right here in Minnesota, we have the resources and capacity – better than perhaps anywhere in the world – to mine these strategic minerals and do it the right way. We have tremendous companies that are committed to creating good paying jobs for generations to come, and we have rigorous state and federal rules and regulations that protect our precious land, air and water. Needless to say, it is absolutely imperative that we continue to maintain and strengthen these environmental standards in the years to come, using all available science and technologies.
By way of example, the proposed Polymet project on the Iron Range has gone through twelve long years of rigorous approvals and reviews by numerous state and federal agencies, including the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and State Historic Preservation Office, the U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Army Corps, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Environmental Protection Agency, Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, as well as public hearings with Minnesota citizens and consultation with our Native American tribes.
Just as importantly, here in Minnesota, we have the vital health and safety protections for our workers and communities. And that’s not to mention our skilled, hardworking Minnesota mine and steel workers, who, given a level playing field, can compete with anyone in the world and are the pride of our state and our Nation.
The simple fact is, environmental damage is environmental damage, and human exploitation is human exploitation – no matter where it happens. If we as Americans want the benefits of these strategic minerals for our own comfort, progress, and well-being, let’s do the mining here in Minnesota – where we can do it better than anywhere else in the world.
Rick Nolan is the Eighth District Congressman representing the Iron Range.