Commentary

What’s with Rep. Pete Stauber’s slavish devotion to a Chilean mining company? | Opinion

May 23, 2022 6:00 am
President Donald Trump and Pete Stauber, then a Republican candiate for the US House

The author writes of Rep. Pete Stauber, pictured with former President Donald Trump: "Stauber’s slavish support for a company like Antofagasta is inexcusable in an official who was elected to represent the best interests of the people of his district." Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images.

Earlier this month at a press conference, U.S. Rep. Pete Stauber, R-Minn., cried a river for a Chilean company that wants to mine the public’s copper from the public’s land upstream from the public’s most popular wilderness area.

But he apparently couldn’t find his notes when another giant company, Cleveland-Cliffs, laid off some 400 steelworkers in northern Minnesota because the company was miffed that the price of taconite ore was reducing its profit margin.  

Stauber has maintained silence over Cleveland-Cliffs’ initiation of what will — by all accounts — be a very long layoff.  

Perhaps nothing captures Stauber’s values as clearly as this dichotomy: He is for mining companies half a world away, but not for the people who live and work in his own district.  

Just look at his vote against the $1 trillion infrastructure bill that will repair bridges over real rivers — and do lots more — for the people of Minnesota’s 8th Congressional District whom he represents, however poorly. 

Stauber has made Antofagasta’s Twin Metals risky mining project next to the Boundary Waters his cause célèbre, summoning outrage over the science-based decision of the Biden administration to cancel the company’s illegally renewed, dangerous mineral leases. If built, such a mine would inevitably pollute the pristine waters of this priceless area, while also destroying dozens of small businesses and thousands of jobs of those whose livelihoods depend on a healthy wilderness. 

Stauber’s slavish support for a company like Antofagasta is inexcusable in an official who was elected to represent the best interests of the people of his district. This is even more true given that Antofagasta is hardly a paragon of corporate rectitude and knew full well what it was getting into when it manufactured the acquisition of the Twin Metals project.  

Antofagasta took a business risk and made a bad investment when it purchased — for pennies on the dollar — a nearly-bankrupt Duluth Metals in 2015. With that poor investment came two expired federal mining leases, renewable only if the Forest Service consented. 

The very idea of a sulfide-ore copper mine in the headwaters of the Boundary Waters was already a matter of grave concern among Stauber’s constituents. Antofagasta arrogantly decided it could bully its way to an operating mine in an area that could reasonably be considered the worst place in the United States, sacrificing our nation’s most visited wilderness, clean water, and the lives and livelihoods of thousands of people. In the end, Antofagasta’s gambit failed. Now Antofagasta and Stauber seek sympathy for poor giant mining-conglomerate Antofagasta. 

Other examples of the sordid nature of Antofagasta’s practices are easy to find. One of the most blatant was the 2016 purchase of a house in a ritzy neighborhood in Washington, D.C., by a member of the family that controls Antofagasta. He then promptly rented the house to Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner. The effort leading to the unlawful renewal of the leases to Antofagasta was underway.  

In Chile, Antofagasta is synonymous with labor unrest, environmental destruction, and social and political manipulation — most recently in connection with a suspect agreement related to a giant dam built by Antofagasta’s Los Pelambres mine.

Stauber rants about opposition to Antofagasta’s Twin Metals as an “assault on our way of life,” but he has it exactly backwards. The drive to build massive, polluting industrial mines and mine infrastructure on thousands of acres of land in the Boundary Waters watershed is in fact an assault on life. It’s an assault on the lives of wilderness-edge communities and the people who nurture them. These communities have developed sustainable economies in the wake of a drastic and decades-long diminishment in mining industry employment that has resulted primarily from the technology and automation that have transformed mining.  

These economies are rooted in the desire of people to live and work in a healthy natural landscape of woods and water, with myriad outdoor recreation opportunities available year-round. Wilderness travelers and other outdoor recreationists, second-home owners, retirees, entrepreneurs who move north and start businesses, telecommuters and others with portable jobs drive these economies. They support the main-street businesses that are thriving and expanding in Ely and other wilderness-edge communities. 

Nobody is moving into these communities because they hope to get a job in a copper mine. A survey by the University of Minnesota-Morris showed that 23% of residents in the townships in the Ely area would be likely to move away if copper mining were permitted in the Boundary Waters watershed.

Fortunately, there are others in Minnesota’s congressional delegation with far more foresight and loyalty to Minnesotans. U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minn., has been spearheading the effort in Congress to permanently protect the Boundary Waters from bad actors like Antofagasta. To save our way of life, it is incumbent upon Congress to pass McCollum’s legislation that would permanently ban sulfide-ore copper mining on public lands in the watershed of the Boundary Waters.

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