Cambensy works with McBroom and U.P. Legislators on Michigan’s mining future; full press release

State Rep. Sara Cambensy (D-Marquette) speaking on the House floor at the Capitol in Lansing (Archive photo courtesy of House Democrats)

LANSING — When State Rep. Sara Cambensy (D – Marquette) introduced House Bill 4227 to create the Committee on Michigan’s Mining Future in 2018, which was responsible for making advisory legislative and policy recommendations to strengthen and develop sustainable mining practices in Michigan, she had a rough idea of what to expect. Fast forward four years to the global push happening now with electric vehicles and the exponential increase in mined minerals needed in order to make this transition happen, and no one saw it moving this fast.

“When the idea of forming a committee on mining was enacted, my communities had just lost nearly 400 high-paying jobs with the idling of the Empire mine in 2016.My focus was more about making sure the research and development of our iron mining was sufficient to survive the steel-making change from traditional blast furnaces to electric arc furnaces, and less on metallic minerals and where we stood as a state and nation in mining those minerals,” Cambensy said.

The push for electrification helped change the proposed legislative focus of the committee to equally address metallic minerals and what we were trying to do to extend the lifespan of our iron range. Incentivizing mining companies to do more research on our ore bodies, creating partnerships with our research universities to explore new ways to process ore that’s more efficient and sustainable for the environment, and protecting our natural resources and water by establishing a mining reclamation fund are now being applied to both iron and metallic mining in the proposed legislation. The approval of a $10M appropriation to start to design a coal dock jetty to eventually dredge and remove the stamp sands in the Keweenaw through a partnership with the Feds was also a major win for the mining committee. Cambensy added, “We were able to take what have been long term issues of cleanup from copper mining and start to address that cleanup issue in Lake Superior. We also took successful policies that allowed for strong public private partnerships in Minnesota for iron mining and applied those similar policies to our iron and metallic mining in Michigan and expanded on them. The bill package will definitely put Michigan at the forefront of modern mining policies in our country, and lead at a time when the pandemic and war in Ukraine have shown we cannot continue to rely on foreign countries to control our access to minerals that we need in our everyday lives. ”

Cambensy admits that although the legislation she is proposing addresses a lot of committee’s recommendations, it still doesn’t address the growing anti-mining sentiment among some environmentalists. The U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources heard testimony on April 7, 2022 from mining experts on the scope and scale of critical mineral mining that is needed to make this transition from fossil fuels. The most startling testimony came from Dr. Duncan Wood.

“To hear mining experts testify that we will need to mine more mineral ores than humans have extracted over the last 70,000 years in order to achieve the scale and timeline politicians are promising and environmental groups are pushing for in order to reduce carbon emissions in our atmosphere don’t line up. “We can’t even begin to address the transition if we don’t start talking about what that means in terms of mining and processing minerals on a much larger scale. If we truly want to address climate change, you have to be open to a lot more mining. You can’t be an advocate for climate change while opposing mining, because a green economy depends on digging up exponentially more minerals to make that transition.” Cambensy sees this as the biggest hurdle going forward. It’s also why one of the bills creates a permanent mining committee to help advise the state director of oil, gas and mineral during this period of rapid growth and change.

Senator Ed McBroom is part of the package on the Senate side and excited to work on mining legislation as well “There is a tremendous opportunity for mining, especially in the UP, in the current climate, given the increasing need for materials and the push for new technologies,” said McBroom, (R) Waucedah Township. “I’m looking forward to having the discussion before the Legislature and focusing on ways that our traditional land based industries, like U.P. mining, can partner with the technology industry. If Michigan can be a part of new technologies from the raw materials to finished products and we ignore the opportunity, we are failing our citizens and communities for a bright future of economic prosperity.”

Cambensy says She is still working on two important bills to address mine closure as well as battery recycling of critical minerals that includes proper disposal, mandatory recycling of critical minerals and fines for EV vehicle owners who don’t find an EV dealer or third party vendor to properly recycle the batteries. These bills, as well as the rest of the mining bills, head for a committee hearing in September when the legislature returns to session. Every U.P. legislator will be part of the bill package. A list of current bills introduced includes the following:

  1. House Bill 6254: Ferrous Mining Research and Development Grants allows iron ore companies paying the Specific Ore Tax to receive a 1:1 state match, up to $100,000 per year, to be used for research and design on existing or future ore bodies, pellet design, tailings and reclamation ponds/pits, environmental solutions to current or existing mining sites, or any other mining issue related to Michigan iron ore bodies. The research dollars can be matched back to any university in Michigan that has a focus in mining, geology or field of study directly related to mining research. Projects will be selected by the mining company and approved by the Director of Oil, Gas and Minerals in EGLE.
  2. House Bill 6218: Non Ferrous Research and Development Grants allows a nonferrous mining company that pays into the Rural Development Fund to receive a 1:1 state match, up to $100,000 per year, to be used for research and design on existing or future ore bodies, tailings and reclamation ponds/pits, environmental solutions to current or existing mining sites, or any other mining issue related to Michigan nonferrous ore bodies. Projects will be selected by the mining company/mining companies paying into the Rural Development Fund and approved by the Director of Oil, Gas, and Minerals. The $100,000 match for research will come after the $250,000 appropriation for EGLE to monitor nonferrous mining sites.
  3. House Bill 6219: Unemployment Extension for Ferrous Mine Idle or Closure extends the number of weeks for unemployment to be collected to no more than 104 weeks. Ferrous mining companies often idle to wait out economic downturns that can last up to 2 years, and the replacement of workers is incredibly difficult to accomplish. Tilden Mine, for example, currently has between 900 and 1,000 full time steelworkers.
  4. House Bill 6220: Advisory Committee on Michigan Hard Rock Mining creates an advisory committee on hard rock mining to advise the Director of Oil, Gas and Minerals and other EGLE and DNR state employees who work with mining regulations, permitting, and land/mineral leasing. The Committee will be made up of 8 members, with 6 members having knowledge in the mining industry, and 2 members at large Modeled after the Oil and Gas Advisory Committee.
  5. House Bill 6255: Mining Reclamation Fund This is a multi bill package that creates a state hard rock mining reclamation fund from both ferrous mining ($250,000 specific ore tax) and nonferrous mining ($250,000 severance tax) to house the mining inspector and dedicate money to go towards mining specialists. A U.P. mining inspector will be responsible for assessing and documenting abandoned mines, environmental concerns from abandoned mine sites, and any other work deemed necessary by the Director of Oil, Gas and Minerals at EGLE. This fund will also allow the state to apply for federal abandoned mining dollars that are traditionally reserved for coal and gold mines in the Western United States. Additional professional staff for the permitting of mines, educational programs and materials on mining may also be created from this fund. The fund may not be used for state litigation or legal fees.