Minnesota Congressman sees challenges and opportunity for the mining sector

April 12, 2016

It’s been a challenging couple of years on the Iron Range on Minnesota. During the past two years, seven of the 11 iron ore mines and processing facilities have been shut down and an estimated 2,000 people who worked directly for the mines have been laid off while thousands more who depend on the business from the mine have suffered. A surge in steel imports to the United States is one of the primary culprits of the trouble and if Congressman Rick Nolan of Minnesota’s eighth district has his way, that will be corrected.

Nolan was the keynote speaker at the 2016 SME Minnesota Conference on April 12 in Duluth, MN. In a sweeping address to a full crowd, Nolan spoke about the importance of mining to the Iron Range, to Minnesota and to the United States.

Nolan noted that in 2015 the United States was hit with a flood of steel imports from places like China and other nations. That year, steel imports reached a record high 29 percent of market share. In turn, U.S. steel production plummeted 70 percent which led the closure of many steel mills which in turn led to the closure of the mines that provide the raw material for those steel mills.

“We are facing unbelievable challenges,” Nolan said. “Cheater nations have dumped steel into our market and have placed American mining and steel manufacturing in jeopardy.”

The U.S. Department of Commerce reported that several different kinds of steel from countries, including China, have been illegally "dumped" into the U.S. market and are being sold below the cost of production. A number of foreign steel companies can afford to do that because they're subsidized by their governments.

But imports are also surging because of increases in steel production worldwide. That's happening primarily in China, where steelmaking capacity has grown from 100 million tons in 2000 (roughly the same as the U.S.) to 1.2 billion tons in 2016. Imports have also grown because of a strong U.S. dollar, and weakened demand for steel in China as its construction boom has slowed.

But, being a self-professed eternal optimist, Nolan went on to say that he felt there are some great opportunities that lie ahead for the mining industry in Minnesota.

Nolan said the Duluth Complex is one of the richest mining regions in the world with enough minerals in the ground to sustain mining for the next 500 years, and the United States has the workforce, the knowledge and the technology to mine the region while protecting the environment and the safety of its workers.

In other good news, Nolan noted that Cliffs Natural Resources announced that it plans to restart its Northshore Mining operations. He also said significant progress has been made on PolyMet’s North Met Mining project and land exchange as the final environmental impact statement was issued by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

2016 SME President Tim Arnold also addressed the plenary crowd, he also spoke about the state of the industry and the challenges that the mining industry is facing, especially coal.

“The coal industry has been given a death sentence without a trial,” said Arnold. “Our government decided to shut it down and my question is who will be next?”

The conference included technical sessions on environment, industrial minerals, social license and responsibility, mining and exploration processing and mine and plant.


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