Warren wades into Twin Metals, Line 3 debate

Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., speaks during a rally Monday, Aug. 19, 2019 at Macalaster College during a campaign appearance in St. Paul, Minn. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

Supporters of an Iron Range copper-nickel mine and region oil pipeline project are voicing their displeasure with 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts over her stance on the heated environmental issues.

Warren was in St. Paul on Monday for a primary election rally. Before the event she tweeted her opposition to the proposed Enbridge Line 3 oil pipeline, and in a separate video, said she would “stop all mining on federal public lands, including the Minnesota Boundary Waters.”

The latter jab appeared directed at Twin Metals Minnesota, which is expected to issue a mine plan to regulators later this year, for a copper-nickel mine located at the edge of the Boundary Waters.

Encampment Minerals was granted permission earlier this month by state regulators to start exploratory drilling near the Boundary Waters, close to the proposed Twin Metals site.

Mining is banned within the Boundary Waters, but not on federal land in its watershed. The Obama administration sought to implement a 20-year ban on mining activity in the Superior National Forest, where Twin Metals is located, but the moratorium was reversed by Trump administration this year.

Eighth District Congressman Pete Stauber, a Republican from Hermantown, tweeted his displeasure with Warren and other candidates on Tuesday.

“It's outrageous that candidates like Sens. Warren and Sanders & Gov. Inslee campaign in Minnesota against our way of life and the potential for thousands of much needed jobs to our region that would provide economic opportunity for all. #Pete4jobs,” he tweeted, referencing Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, who are also running in the 2020 Democratic primary field and have previously come out to oppose the Line 3 project.

The decision to oppose the projects also rallied local labor unions that would build them.

Mike Syversrud, president of the Iron Range Building and Construction Trades Council, told MinnPost that Warren’s decision to oppose Twin Metals, before it submits a mine plan, “pi**es me off,” saying rural trades people are increasingly leaving the Democrat party over such stances.

Labor unions, especially on the Iron Range, used to be a safe haven for Democrats. But those votes are diminishing quickly as controversial projects are increasingly opposed by the party favorites.

Jason George, business manager for the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 49, said the projects have strong support from Range-based DFLers, but it wavers with metro legislators. He chided Warren and others for not making a trip to the Range and talking with supporters before voicing an opinion.

“I echo his sentiments,” George said in a phone interview Tuesday, referring to Syversrud’s comments. “It’s very irritating to see Democratic politicians, not from here, try to use our issues for political gain when they have no idea what they’re talking about. They haven’t studied the issue, they haven’t talked to the people that live here.”

Line 3, George said, would employee Local 49ers across multiple states to construct the pipeline. As for the building trades, they are set to sign a project-labor agreement with Twin Metals in Ely today, meaning the project will be built with union workers.

“That’s the most disappointing thing, that people can be flippantly opposed to high-paying union jobs,” George said. “They just jump right in and say ‘Hey, we’re opposed.’ They seem hell-bent on not listening to people on these issues.”

In June, the last major poll of likely Democratic primary voters conducted in Minnesota showed that Warren held a narrow lead, but was in a virtual tie with Sanders and former Vice President Joe Biden.

Warren’s campaign didn’t respond to the unions, but a campaign spokeswoman sent MinnPost Warren’s “green manufacturing” plan that aims to create more than 1 million jobs. It would be paid for mainly by a tax on corporate profits. The spokeswoman also emailed Warren’s public lands plan, which would only stop new fossil fuel leases on public lands. She did not clarify whether Warren intends to broadly stop hard-rock mining as well.

Walker Orenstein of MinnPost contributed to this article. MinnPost is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization whose mission is to provide high-quality journalism about Minnesota.

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