October 31, 2013
Minnesota’s Executive Council met on October 25th to approve the issuance of 31 mining leases for non-ferrous metallic minerals. The council approved the leases on a vote of four-to-one. Executive Council members include Governor Dayton, Secretary of State Ritchie, State Auditor Otto, Attorney General Swanson, and Lt. Governor Prettner Solon, who chaired the meeting.
During the comment period before to the vote, industry representatives framed the approval of the leases as just one part of a longer process. Lieutenant Governor Prettner Solon offered similar sentiments, and stated that rigorous environmental oversight – along with public comment – would follow in the event that major exploration or mining project proposals were submitted.
Upon inquiry from Governor Dayton, Department of Natural Resource (DNR) Commissioner Tom Landwehr stated that such project proposals would constitute public information, but would generally not be made available to the public short of a Data Practices Act request. Governor Dayton then directed Commissioner Landwehr to affirmatively make any lease-related proposals available to the public.
The council’s lone “no” vote, State Auditor Rebecca Otto, stated that she had had “a revelation” early the morning of the meeting that informed her vote. “We have not done copper sulfide mining in this state yet,” said Otto. She expressed concerns about potential fiscal burdens associated with copper sulfide mining that might be placed on future generations. Secretary of State Ritchie expressed concerns about the process generally.
A case brought by landowners challenging the land sale process is currently on petition for review at the Minnesota Supreme Court. Attorney General Swanson was asked by the governor whether a finding in the plaintiff’s favor would impact the leases, and whether the Executive Council could issue “conditional” leases, pending the outcome of the court review. Swanson responded that the potential review did not – in her view – impact the council’s ability to approve the leases. Swanson did not recommend issuing conditional leases.
Governor Dayton followed up the meeting with a guest column in the Mesabi Daily News on October 30, in which he offered additional details on his views regarding the underlying issue of copper sulfide mining. Noting the significant interest in the issue, the governor expressed his intent to “remain undecided, until all of the scientific studies, expert analyses, and public comments have been completed and I have reviewed them.”
PRM is currently seeking data from a variety of state and federal agencies about proposed mining operations in the state.