Local 49 business manager testifies in Congress on importance of mining critical minerals in the U.S.

Jason George, business manager of the International Union of Operating Engineers, Local 49, testified Feb. 9 in a Congressional hearing on the importance of mining critical minerals in the U.S. The hearing, titled, “Dependence on Foreign Adversaries: America’s Critical Minerals Crisis,” took place in Washington before the House Committee on Natural Resources, Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations.

George highlighted the opportunities domestic mining offers Minnesota and the nation, as well as the ethical problems of relying on minerals extracted in other countries by child and forced labor.

“Today, we are at the precipice of a generational opportunity that could launch another 100 years of prosperity through mining,” George said. “Our nation, and the world, are in desperate need of critical minerals such as nickel, cobalt, and copper. These minerals are necessary to build the batteries, wind turbines, solar panels, and other products the world needs in order to transition to clean energy. … The only question before us is whether or not we will be allowed to mine them.”

But instead of relying on science and reason, the current process for permitting mines has become hyper political, George said, adding that it has been “hijacked by a combination of wealthy cabin owners, wealthy tourists, business owners who supply their outfitting needs, and anti-development extremists.”

“This small group of people is highly influential within the Democratic Party structure in my home state,” he said. “They are loud. They give a lot of money. And too many Democrats in my area, my state, are advancing their own narrow political agenda at the expense of Minnesota and the American people, in my opinion.

“The latest example is a decision by the Department of the Interior to ban mining on more than 225,000 acres of northern Minnesota land that contain the vast majority of our mineral resources. The department did so without studying any specific mine plan. … It issued a blanket ban based on hypothetical scenarios.”

George argued too much is at stake to allow this to happen.

“Good-paying union jobs are on the line,” he said. “Members of my union and others will build these projects, earn family-sustaining wages, world-class health care and pensions that ensure the dignity of a good life in retirement. Unlike the data used to ban mining, these jobs aren’t hypothetical. … We have project labor agreements with all the mining companies that are proposing mines in this area.”

“We are extremely frustrated back home,” George added. “We know how to do this. We have the minerals in our backyard. The people that live there want these jobs and want to explore these opportunities. We absolutely have the knowhow to do it safely. The cleanest water in Minnesota exists where mines have existed for more than a hundred years.”

As a labor leader, George said, he would be remiss if he didn’t also point out the horrific conditions faced by workers currently mining critical minerals in other countries, such as the Congo, where human rights violations have been widely reported, including forced and child labor.

In supplemental written testimony submitted to the committee, George cited a recent program by NPR titled, “How ‘Modern-Day Slavery’ in the Congo Powers the Rechargeable Battery Economy.”

“I simply cannot understand how our government can rightly acknowledge the human atrocities in countries like the Congo that mine our minerals, while the same administration moves to ban the mining of these minerals in America, where we can ensure such atrocities do not happen,” George said in his written testimony.

“A lot is at stake,” he said. “Opportunities for workers. The lives of poor people in foreign lands. Our energy future. Our national security. We must find the will to do the right thing.”

Watch the entire hearing here.