VIRGINIA, Minn. - Comments made to The New York Times Magazine by environmental leaders Becky Rom and Reid Carron were condemned by Iron Range and statewide leaders Friday, Oct. 13, who called their depiction of miners disrespectful to the working class.
Rom and Carron were interviewed as part of a story on the intense copper-nickel debate in Ely, which published online Thursday ahead of its Sunday print issue.
"Resentment is the primary driver of the pro-mining crowd here - they are resentful that other people have come here and been successful while they were sitting around waiting for a big mining company," Carron told Times reporter Reid Forgrave, a correspondent from Minneapolis. "They want somebody to just give them a job so they can all drink beer with their buddies and go four-wheeling and snowmobiling with their buddies, not have to think about anything except punching a clock."
Rom added: "Danny Forsman drives to the mine in his truck, comes home and watches TV, and he doesn't know this world exists."
The comments struck the ire of the Range, sparking several rebukes early Friday.
"These are dedicated, responsible, innovative people who certainly 'know the world exists' and work every day - including in their spare time - to make our world a better place," said Kelsey Johnson, president of the Iron Mining Association.
Rom, a leader in the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters, has been an outspoken critic of a plan to install an underground copper-nickel mine in the Superior National Forest near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.
The subject is a hot debate between environmental groups in opposition over the potential it could taint the Boundary Waters, and the pro-mining forces that support a potentially large jobs creator for Ely and the surrounding communities.
"These judgmental comments wrongfully disparage thousands of hard-working Minnesotans," said Minnesota DFL Chair Ken Martin. "There's no question that the issue of mining in Northern Minnesota is a contentious one. But there's no room in the debate for sharp-tongued attacks on Minnesotans who work hard everyday to provide for their families and support our state's economy."
Rom and Carron issued an apology late Friday morning.
"Living in the Ely community, we depend on people all the time who we know hold a different view than we do on whether copper mining would be a good thing," Rom and Carron wrote. "When we do business with them, they are helpful and generous, and we treat each other with mutual respect. For Reid to say that people like that are sitting around waiting for a big mining company to give them a job or Becky to question if Dan has been into the Boundary Waters is disrespectful."
Congressman Rick Nolan, D-Minn., who represents the Iron Range and is a strong supporter of the Twin Metals mining project, said his office also received an apology from Rom and Carron, who acknowledged their comments were "disrespectful to these hardworking 8th District constituents," Nolan said.
Both Rom and Forsman have found themselves under scrutiny for comments made in the past year.
Rom was quoted in May by The Progressive, a grassroots publication that champions progressive politics, that the environmental groups would win the copper-nickel fight "one funeral at a time."
Forsman also faced backlash in December over a Facebook post on a pro-Hillary Clinton group, in which he suggested its members commit suicide. Rom was among those suggesting Forsman resign from the Ely City Council over the comment.
WDIO-TV’s Renee Passal contributed to this report.