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Allowing reforms under bills passed by state lawmakers – Duluth News Tribune

ST. PAUL – Several mining and energy-related bills have passed in the final days of the Minnesota Legislature’s session.

The bills include steps to reform or streamline some permitting requirements for clean energy infrastructure projects and projects that require environmental assessments, including mining projects. They begin the regulatory process to oversee any helium and hydrogen extraction projects and allow the return of mining to a state park after nearly half a century.

Meanwhile, a series of bills aimed at restricting copper-nickel mining in the state failed to pass this session.

The environmental omnibus bill contains language that would allow projects – including mining – under environmental review to request a coordinated review among government agencies and set deadlines for any action taken by a government agency.

It is intended to speed up the assessment of any project that requires an environmental worksheet or a more stringent environmental impact assessment.

The bill would also establish a Critical Materials Recovery Task Force to investigate ways to recover aluminum, cobalt, copper, nickel and other materials from waste before they end up in a landfill or incinerator.

“These new policies will reduce red tape that can hinder economic development and help us recover the critical materials that power our modern economy,” said Sen. Grant Hauschild, DFL-Hermantown, in a news release Friday. “This is a major step forward in supporting our business community, while maintaining a smart approach to supervision.”

Another licensing bill was passed late Sunday as part of the longstanding omnibus bill.

The Minnesota Energy Infrastructure Permitting Act aims to speed up the permitting process of clean energy projects such as transmission lines, power plants and energy storage systems by establishing timelines for review and streamlining other processes.

Gregg Mast, executive director of Clean Energy Economy MN, said in a news release that the bill was among legislation that “will enable Minnesota to seamlessly integrate clean energy across our state, paving the way for a carbon-free future.”

State lawmakers last year set a deadline to achieve 100% carbon-free electricity by 2040.

“Authorizing reforms this session is essential for Minnesota to achieve 100% clean energy by 2040 – and it represents significant progress, building on the successes of last year’s historic session,” Mast said.

Helium and hydrogen extraction

Worker cleans pipe on drill sight

A worker cleans a pipe used in the helium exploration conducted Feb. 5 in Lake County.

Wyatt Buckner / file 2024 / Duluth Media Group

The Language in the Environment omnibus bill that passed both chambers last week will set rules for the state’s nascent helium mining industry.

The bill would ban commercial production of gases until a permit is approved and allow companies to lease and explore state lands, which would provide money for the Minnesota School Trust Lands. Currently, exploration is only allowed on private land.

topez-project.jpg

Gary Meader / Duluth Media Group

It would also allow government agencies to initiate a public rulemaking process to develop final rules for the industry. A production permit cannot be issued until rulemaking is completed, or if the Legislature adopts temporary rules while the final rulemaking process plays out.

The language included in the omnibus bill comes from bills authored by Hauschild and state Rep. Dave Lislegard, DFL-Aurora.

It came after samples from one well showed helium deep beneath the forested soil of northeastern Minnesota.

British Columbia-based Pulsar Helium obtained samples from the hole at Babbitt and Isabella that contained up to 13.8% helium, well above the 0.3% concentration considered economically interesting. The samples were taken at depths of 1,750 and 2,200 feet at the Topaz drilling site.

The discovery has sparked interest and more research into helium and even hydrogen gases is expected in the region.

Hill Annex State Park deleted

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This undated file photo shows mining remnants at Hill Annex Mine State Park in Calumet on the Iron Range. Established in 1988, the park is located on the site of an iron ore mine that operated between 1913 and 1978.

Contributed / Minnesota Department of Natural Resources

The environmental omnibus bill also abolishes Hill Annex State Park in Calumet because it could become an iron ore mine again, as allowed by the legislation creating the park.

1843325+hill attachment.jpg

Gary Meader / Duluth Media Group

The bill requires the site to be closed while the mining and mineral extraction leases are in effect. There are also calls for an advisory council to determine the future use of the site once mining ends there.

The Calumet Reclamation Co., a scram mining company, wants to take iron ore waste left behind by previous miners to North Dakota to process it into pig iron, a key ingredient for steel made by electric arc furnaces.

Cleveland-Cliffs also wants to mine the area and process the ore into pellets at its Hibbing Taconite plant.

Iron mining at the Hill Annex Mine Pit took place from 1913-1978 and became a state park in 1988, highlighting the mining history of the area. However, it was one of Minnesota’s least visited state parks, and without constant water pumping the well would overflow by the end of the decade, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

Mining at Hill Annex brought Cretaceous-era fossils to the surface, allowing the discovery of several dinosaur bones and thousands of shark teeth, snails and mussels. There is also evidence of ancient crocodiles there.

Jimmy Lovrien

Jimmy Lovrien covers environmental issues, including mining, energy and climate, for the Duluth News Tribune. He can be reached at [email protected] or 218-723-5332.