Gov. Mark Dayton has long had a crucial decision looming: Whether to permit copper-nickel mines in northern Minnesota.

This week he may have given his first public indication of where his inclination lies. On Monday the Democratic governor told Twin Metals Minnesota he would deny access to state land for the development of its proposed mine next to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

Last week the state Department of Natural Resources approved a 10-year environmental review for another proposed mine, this one for PolyMet and located further south. The governor has repeatedly said he has not decided whether to let that project move forward, but the time for that decision is coming soon.

Copper-nickel mines have a sorry record of despoiling land and water, and the Twin Metals and PolyMet projects are seen by environmental groups as endangering the BWCA (Twin Metals) and Lake Superior (PolyMet) watersheds.

But the giant mines are also being embraced by the Iron Range, which has been ravaged by the global steel glut. With the state’s taconite plants and mines shut down, thousands of Rangers are out of work — and the Range is traditionally a DFL stronghold. Dayton’s political allies there are pushing for him to approve the projects, as are his Republican rivals, who are cool to environmental concerns and see an opportunity to split the Democrats.

Dayton has been vocal about the need to protect Minnesota’s water. Monday’s decision underlines his commitment on that issue. We’ve backed his stance on ditch buffers, and we support him on the mine decision as well.

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