As President Trump enters the Northland today, he does so on a wave of tariff announcements and trade wars that may or may not ultimately benefit the Iron Range and its steel industry. Those will undoubtedly be highlighted talking points for the president today in an 8th District that carried him handily in 2016, based in large part on his promises to rebuild blue collar jobs.
Tariffs could do that, so long as the high-level trade wars are in fact won by the U.S., instead of driving the economy down to a point where steel consumers are pinching pennies. We’ll have to take a wait-and-see approach here.
But there is one thing Trump can change with the stroke of an executive order pen: Rescind the federal mineral withdrawal in Superior National Forest.
Before leaving office in January 2017, President Obama ordered more than 234,000 acres of Superior National Forest be locked down from industry activity, which included exploration, as the government studied potential environmental impacts. The withdrawal also asked for a 20-year ban on industry activity, with a two-year moratorium to conduct the study.
Right now the government agencies are scouring through the submitted comments and testimony from numerous public hearings. It’s been long-expected that the Trump administration would let the two-year timeline run its course and ultimately release the land back without any more significant delays for prospective projects.
There lies the problem. No projects are currently proposed. Twin Metals Minnesota is the furthest along: It has a site picked out, core samplings and a general idea of the underground mine near Ely.
Other mineral developments in the same vast area of Superior National Forest are stalled, meaning exploration and sampling cannot be conducted. Again, these aren’t huge delays at this phase for many of these projects, but if there’s one thing the region’s patience is wearing thin on is delays to the process.
Especially when the companies experiencing these delays have followed the process in place — and not to sound like a broken record — haven’t proposed anything that can be reviewed individually through an environmental impact study.
Instead the region’s mineral development in the Superior National Forest, which is rich with minerals, remains in limbo because of a one-size-fits-all policy that subverts current process.
The president can change that dynamic.
In less than a year, Trump has shown support for issues relating to the mining industry. The proposed tariffs address illegal dumping that ravaged the Range economy in 2015. His administration reinstated federal mineral leases to Twin Metals, a significant step for the company.
As he visits Duluth today, Trump will meet with local elected officials, union and trades leaders, business owners and regional jobs advocates about the mining industry. The land withdrawal is almost certain to be a topic of discussion. A decision on the Obama administration’s proposal is due in January, but without a specific project proposal to judge, it’s ultimately flimsy.
Trump can deliver another win for his supporters and fair process by rescinding the land withdrawal and restoring it for mineral exploration, the way the process was meant to be all along.