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Walz urges mining companies to extend lifespans of Minntac, Hibbing Taconite

The requests come after reports that the operations were running out of iron ore.

FILE: Hibbing Taconite
Hibbing Taconite's pellet processing plant from the air. (2002 file / News Tribune)
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ST. PAUL — Gov. Tim Walz on Monday, Feb. 1, wrote to the heads of two mining companies to keep open their Hibbing Taconite mines, whose iron ore reserves are dwindling and expected to run out by 2025.

The governor in separate letters to U.S. Steel Corporation and Cleveland-Cliffs asked to speak with the companies' leaders about the future of the Minntac and Hibbing Taconite operations on the Iron Range. And Walz asked them to consider expanding their operations into nearby areas where additional ore is present.

"Both facilities are critical to the ongoing economic success of Minnesota’s Iron Range," Walz wrote, noting the two Minnesota mines employ more than 1,700 workers. " Closure of any mine would be devastating to the individuals who work at the facility and to those in the surrounding community who depend on the mines."

Cliffs CEO Lourenco Goncalves in December threatened to close Hibtac when it runs out of ore in 2025 — a move that would eliminate 750 jobs at the Hibbing iron ore mine and pellet plant — if the state continues to give mineral leases to Mesabi Metallics instead of Cliffs.

Cliffs currently holds a patchwork of land at the incomplete Mesabi Metallics iron ore mining project in Nashwauk.

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Additionally, the DNR has been trying to get U.S. Steel and ArcelorMittal to negotiate using ore from the privately held Carmi Campbell Reserve near Hibtac to feed the plant. Currently, that reserve is leased to U.S. Steel's Keetac facility, DNR Assistant Commissioner Jess Richards said late last year.

For more than a century, miners in the region have extracted iron ore used to forge steel. And royalties from the steel companies have spurred revenue used to support K-12 schools around Minnesota.

Dana Ferguson is a Minnesota Capitol Correspondent for Forum News Service. Ferguson has covered state government and political stories since she joined the news service in 2018, reporting on the state's response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the divided Statehouse and the 2020 election.
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