Guest post: Wisconsin needs iron ore mining to grow the economy and for a better tomorrow for all

Posted on September 18, 2013 by Minerals Make Life

Across a 22-mile-long stretch of Northern Wisconsin, lies more than 2 billion tons of iron ore— a key material in the production of American made steel. Wisconsin’s resources account for an estimated 15 percent of all recoverable iron ore in the United States, representing a deposit critical to U.S. economic competitiveness.

Much progress has been made in recent months to develop Wisconsin’s robust mineral wealth and provide the far-reaching economic benefits that come along with this development. After the passage of Wisconsin’s iron ore mining reform in March 2013, the industry worked swiftly to respond to the updated environmental regulation, which sets a 420-day limit for the state’s Department of Natural Resources to approve or deny a permit. Gogebic Taconite, the owner of the proposed mine in Ashland and Iron counties, spent the summer exploring the deposit and sharing with the public its plans for the project.

If progress continues, the proposed mine could provide more than 700 direct, well-paying jobs that will change the fortune of families in the area for generations to come. It will also indirectly support an additional 2,100 jobs— all in an economically depressed part of Wisconsin that needs help. The mine could also contribute more than $600 million to the state’s GDP, a boost that would positively affect all Wisconsinites.

If you ask the residents of Hurley and Ashland counties, they will tell you saying yes to this project is a no-brainer. And we did just that, when we produced our mini-documentary Mineshaft. Everyone we talked to on Main Street told us how much the mine would mean to the local economy and how much it would help in keeping young people from moving away just to find good-paying jobs. We also heard that if Minnesota has a strong and safe mining industry, why can’t Wisconsin?

According to the United States Geological Survey, 97 percent of America’s domestic iron ore supply currently comes from mines in Michigan and Minnesota. In 2011 alone, minerals mining in Minnesota contributed more than $3.2 billion to the state’s economy and directly employed more than 17,100 people. Think about that number – $3.2 billion – and what it could mean for Wisconsin.

And this economic success doesn’t come at the expense of the environment as stringent local, state and federal regulations remain in place to prevent harm. The modern mining bill included environmental review periods twice as long as the review period for iron mining permits in other states.

Despite all of this progress, much remains to be done. The industry will continue to work towards the production phase but is threatened by extremist opposition armed with bad facts and a willful denial of what a great economic opportunity this is for all of Wisconsin. It is critical that Wisconsin safely and responsibly develop its natural resources in order to ensure economic opportunity and job growth, as well as to guarantee that our nation’s manufacturers have the key materials they need to keep the United States at the forefront of the global economy.

The rest of the country is counting on us.

Brett Healy is president of the MacIver Institute for Public Policy—Wisconsin’s free market voice.

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