Harvard economist: Protecting Boundary Waters will be better for economy than mining

The professor looked at 72 scenarios. In 69 of them it was better not to mine the Superior National Forest.
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Opening up Superior National Forest to more mining would harm northern Minnesota's economy in the long term, according to an economics professor at Harvard University.

Professor James H. Stock and PhD student Jacob Bradt studied the positives and negatives of the U.S. Forest Service's proposal to withdraw 234,000 acres of federal land in northern Minnesota from consideration for future mining projects.

During a recent visit to Duluth, President Donald Trump said he intends to rescind this protection, opening up the forest to more copper-nickel mining exploration, though said "we will do it carefully."

But the Harvard economists found that while the state of Minnesota and the Iron Range would see an economic benefit in the short-term from mining investment, it would be better in the long term to protect the forest and the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

"If mining is commenced at TMM (Twin Metals Minnesota), there would likely be an initial but temporary net growth in employment and income associated with the mining activity.

"Over time, the economic benefits of mining would be outweighed by the negative impact of mining on the recreational industry and on in-migration."

Their study found that if the forest was protected, there would be 4,500 more jobs and up to $900 million more in personal income created over 20 years, compared to if the mining went ahead.

"We examined 72 different income scenarios that represent a range of growth parameters consistent with historical data, previous studies of the region, and the academic literature. All the scenarios show the boom-bust cycle of employment and income. In 69 of the 72 income scenarios we consider, the net present value of income under withdrawal [ie. protecting the land] exceeds that under no-withdrawal, in many cases by a large margin."

In their letter to the Forest Service, Stock and Bradt wrote: "We have received no compensation for this analysis, and neither of us have any financial interest in this matter." 

Copper nickel mining company Twin Metals is among the companies that oppose the Forest Service's plan to protect the land, saying it would "have a devastating impact on the region’s economy, eliminating the promise of thousands of good-paying jobs and billions of dollars in local investment."

Leaders of Iron Range cities are also opposed. During a roundtable with the president in June, Babbitt mayor Andrea Zupanich said her town's "biggest fear" is that it couldn't explore the potential deposits of copper and nickel that could provide jobs and education funding.

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The president's comments come ahead of a close battle expected in Minnesota's 8th Congressional District, where opinion has become increasingly divided by the red-leaning mining supporters in the Iron Range, and the blue-leaning conservationists on the North Shore.

That said, both GOP candidate Pete Stauber and DFL candidate Joe Radinovich have expressed their support for mining, albeit Radinovich is calling for more regulation to protect the northern Minnesota environment, as MPR reports.

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