Cliffs makes bet on automotive; Essar hires big name to lobby; PolyMet-Teck partnership official
Plus Tina Smith visits the Range, legislators eye St. Louis County for PFAS treatment
🌞 The cold weather is back for at least one day, but the icy muck of earlier in the week is gone around the Iron Range, and we’re expected to see some sunshine!
🐯 On tap for this weekend: Come meet Clifford and Daniel Tiger at the Minnesota Discovery Center from 10 to noon Saturday. No word on if Clifford will be the size of a mining truck yet … guess you’ll have to find out!
⚾️ Pitchers and catchers reported to spring training for the Minnesota Twins, meaning games are right around the corner. We don’t blame any of you jettisoning Minnesota for Fort Myers, Florida in the coming weeks.
Now onto the news! Have a great weekend!
Cliffs is ready to drive the automotive inventory comeback
Cleveland-Cliffs hosted its year-end earnings call on Tuesday and aside from a record $23 billion in revenue reported, the company is focusing in on the auto industry in 2023.
CEO Lourenco Goncalves said a lot of factors that led to low inventories during and after the pandemic — mainly supply chain issues that held up microchips — have started to subside, creating the potential for automakers to ramp up production.
Cliffs is a large provider of steel to the industry, and a domestic one at that.
Goncalves said the company recently entered a fixed-price deal with the industry that, combined with the certainty of Cliffs can delivering the highly-specified steel products to assembly lines, positions the company at the forefront to deliver once automakers are ready.
What that means for Minnesota and the Iron Range mines is a steady source for iron ore as those production lines start moving. It’s also good news for the blast furnaces the mines feed to make said steel, as opposed to electric arc furnaces that can’t meet the specifications of the industry.
“That's why Cleveland-Cliffs does not need to, and does not plan to invest in new EAFs beyond the five EAFs we already operate,” Goncalves said.
Two things not touched on Tuesday were any updates on the company’s pursuit of state mineral leases to mine the former Butler Taconite site in Nashwauk.
Cliffs also didn’t provide a new timeline on restarting Northshore operations in Babbitt and Silver Bay. A filing from the company indicated “no earlier than the second quarter of 2023,” which keeps the facilities in line for the April date last mentioned by the company.
Bakk joins Essar, Twin Metals as lobbyist
Recently retired Sen. Tom Bakk of Cook has re-emerged as a registered lobbyist for Twin Metals Minnesota and Essar Capital Americas.
The former Senate minority and majority leader was rumored for months to be prepared to join the Essar team in some capacity and his fit with Twin Metals is a natural one. He joins them less than a month after the new Legislature was seated last month.
Bakk’s foray into lobbying isn’t a surprising one. He has decades of experience in St. Paul and when it comes to Twin Metals, he’s been among the most steadfast supporters of the underground copper-nickel mine they want to build near the Boundary Waters.
It’s the joining Essar part of the equation that raises some eyebrows.
Minnesota Reformer’s J. Patrick Coolican spoke to Bakk recently about his move to the lobbying realm.
Essar has been a known bad actor in the state and Iron Range business community since it went bankrupt in 2016. The company recently lost state mineral leases, despite taking it through the court system, and seems unlikely to earn them back from the Walz administration in the coming weeks.
Team Essar has convinced several former lawmakers or administration folks to join their lobbying efforts — Roger Moe, Doug Johnson, Ron Dicklich and Charles Sutton, for example — without real results to show for it. A few years back they tried to recruit former U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan, who declined (Jerry talked to Rick off the record about it at the time, but gist was he listened and never seriously considered it).
For Bakk, it might not matter, but certainly isn’t a great look. Essar has essentially torched its reputation across the Range and its recent hire of Larry Sutherland, who lead U.S. Steel operations in Minnesota, didn’t bring back any credibility.
He’s also taken up a spot as a tobacco lobbyist, as covered here by the TimberJay.
PolyMet, Teck joint venture is made official
Dan Kraker at MPR News has the details on this one, but in short, it’s a consummation of an agreement made in July by the two Canadian companies to join forces and develop their mineral deposits on the Iron Range.
The new venture renames the former NorthMet project NewRange Copper Nickel and gives it some new structure and potential. Tannice McCoy will be the new general manager and PolyMet CEO Jon Cherry will chair a management committee made up of three representatives each from Teck and PolyMet.
Here’s from Kraker’s story:
“Under the terms of the deal, the NorthMet deposit—which PolyMet has been pursuing near the city of Hoyt Lakes—and Teck’s nearby and much larger Mesaba deposit, are now controlled by NewRange under single management.
Together, the two deposits contain more than four billion tons of potential mineral resources. That constitutes more than half of the known valuable metals in the Duluth Complex, a rich ore body that stretches across northeastern Minnesota.”
It doesn’t change the permits issued, the permits being fought in court or the ones that require more action following previous court battles.
The Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, which opposes the project and was critical of the initial July announcement, said NewRange was “the same bad idea with a different name, and potentially even worse impacts.”
Arrest made outside Rock Ridge school in Virginia
An individual was arrested Tuesday afternoon outside the North Star Elementary construction site in Virginia, which neighbors the current Virginia High School in the Rock Ridge district.
According to Superintendent Dr. Noel Schmidt, the person was allegedly incoherently yelling at construction workers and throwing rocks at them and the heavy equipment vehicles.
They were arrested after a short time.
“At no point did this individual make any attempt to enter Virginia High School,” Schmidt wrote in an email to parents Tuesday. “However, we will be reviewing our safety procedures at Virginia High School, to ensure that our students and staff are safe within the building. We take the safety of our students and staff seriously and wanted to make you aware of the incident.”
ICYMI: Sen. Smith helps brings federal funds to the Range
Sen. Tina Smith toured the Iron Range late last month to tout a number of projects receiving federal funding, including a water project on the East Range.
We highlighted the Joint Water Project, a collaboration between Aurora and the Town of White, which could later included Biwabik and Hoyt Lakes. It received $4 million.
Projects in Chisholm and Ely were also awarded funds.
From the Star Tribune: Minnesota sports watchers should keep an eye on developments at Bally Sports, which appears headed for bankruptcy.
Walker Orenstein at MinnPost writes about the tricky politics of gun laws as the Legislature considers “red flag” laws this session.
Also from the Star Tribune: The Minnesota Supreme Court said the state can ban felons from voting until their probation is up. This as the DFL considers a law allowing them to vote after incarceration.
Deena Winter of the Minnesota Reformer recently reported on a bill from Rep. Dave Lislegard, DFL-Aurora, that would allow for a PFAS treatment facility in St. Louis County.
What we’re up to:
🔥 Leah has been putting out fires around the house. No, not from Jerry’s cooking. She’s also brainstorming childrens books.
🥫 Jerry just fought off a nasty cold he acquired from the children. Sharing is caring right? They’re lucky they’re cute!
🐶 Grandpa Ryan’s dog Fallujah (I’ll explain next newsletter, maybe) didn’t like being left home alone, so he ate part of the house. We’re not kidding either, he ate the trim, part of a door handle and the wall. He’s also lucky he’s cute.
🪚 On a totally related note: We’re in the market for a good handyman.