House committee hears testimony on mining bill

State Rep. Sara Cambensy, D-Marquette, is testifying in support of her House Bill 4227 before the House Committee on Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation in Lansing on Tuesday. (Courtesy photo)

LANSING — The House Committee on Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation held a hearing Tuesday on a bill sponsored by state Rep. Sara Cambensy, D-Marquette, that would strengthen and develop a sustainable mining, minerals and aggregate industry in Michigan. Cambensy’s House Bill 4227 would create the Committee on Michigan’s Mining Future in order to guide sound, long-term mining policy in the state.

“It was great to see a diverse group of industry, labor, research and school officials testify in support of my bill in Lansing today. Collectively, we were able to tell our story on why state support for mining and aggregates is critical in order to grow and sustain our economy,” Cambensy said in a statement. “Our ability to work together on infrastructure, energy, transportation, research and development at the state level will cultivate the long-term success of the industry for generations to come.

“Coordination among our stakeholders in mining through HB 4227 creates the forum that’s needed to address complex challenges from legacy costs to regulation and taxation. Understanding that we can have 21st century mining in Michigan while protecting our environment is key to moving this bill forward. Today that discussion was formally started in committee and I’m pleased with the amount of positive feedback and support my office has received.”

With Cleveland-Cliffs Inc.’s recent state-of-the company address in Marquette in March, which discussed the possible reopening of the Empire Mine, Cambensy’s introduction of the bill is timely.

“While we cannot control the global market, we can create a climate that encourages a responsible, sustainable mining industry, so that we are ready when a window of opportunity opens,” Cambensy said. “In Michigan, sound state policies that promote investment while protecting our environment will help Michigan avoid missed opportunities in the future.”

Since Cambensy’s bill was introduced, it has generated a tremendous amount of support from community leaders and other stakeholders. Matt Johnson of Eagle Mine; Chad Korpi, Dan Ruokolainen and Michael Grondz of United Steelworkers Local 4950; Ryan Underwood and Mike Gregory of United Steelworkers Local 4974; and NICE Community Schools Superintendent Bryan DeAugustine traveled to Lansing from the Upper Peninsula to testify in support of the bill.

Patrick Bloom of Cleveland-Cliffs, Steve Claywell of Building Trades and Dr. Stephen Kesler, geologist and professor emeritus at the University of Michigan, also testified in favor of Cambensy’s bill.

Bloom, who is director of government relations for Cleveland-Cliffs, noted the company operates the 8 million-ton-capacity Tilden Mine in the west end of Marquette County, and employs nearly 850 workers. It also operates the LS&I railroad and the Upper Harbor ore dock in Marquette, which employ 112 workers, as well as a research laboratory in Ishpeming that employs 18 people. Tilden has an estimated annual economic impact of about $452 million.

“In 2014 and 2015, when the Upper Peninsula faced an electric power crisis that threatened to impose tens of millions of dollars of added cost on U.P. ratepayers, Cliffs partnered with the state of Michigan and electric utilities to negotiate an alternative electric power solution,” Bloom said in his testimony.

This solution was designed to hold down costs, end punitive System Support Resource charges and provide for a generation-based electric power solution following the planned closure of the Presque Isle Power Plant, he said.

“I am pleased to report that UMERC, a newly created, Michigan-only electric utility, will commission two state-of-the-art natural gas-fired generating facilities in the Upper Peninsula in the coming weeks,” Bloom said. “Cliffs’ engagement with the state of Michigan, our elected officials and community stakeholders in response to the electric power crisis stands as evidence of good outcomes that can be achieved when various interests unite behind a common goal.

“With that experience in mind, we view Rep. Cambensy’s Committee on Michigan’s Mining Future as an excellent forum to address the challenges and opportunities confronting Michigan’s mining sector. Cliffs’ long and successful history in Michigan is due in great part to our supportive mining communities, responsive government officials and Michigan’s stringent, but reasonable, regulatory environment.”

In his testimony, Kesler said mining plays a critically important role in advanced economies.

“Almost everything that we use comes from mines, including iron to make steel for cars, refrigerators and ships; aluminum for airplanes and cans; copper for wires and pipes; bromine and lithium for batteries and chemicals; limestone for cement; and aggregate — sand, gravel and crushed stone — for roads and buildings,” he said.