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Local view: Franken, Klobuchar gamble with PolyMet letters to DNR

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Local view: Franken, Klobuchar gamble with PolyMet letters to DNR
Duluth Minnesota 424 W. First St. 55802

On the final day of the public-comment period for the proposed PolyMet NorthMet project, three Democrats elected by Minnesotans to the U.S. House and U.S. Senate offered differing views in letters they submitted to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

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In a six-page letter to the DNR, U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan fully supported the NorthMet project and a future of precious-metals mining in northern Minnesota. He wrote that the area contains minerals of strategic national importance. He also wrote that the NorthMet project meets the highest regulatory standards of state and federal agencies and will set environmental-protection precedents.

In stark contrast, the one-page letters of U.S. Sens. Al Franken and Amy Klobuchar simply trumpeted our mining history, briefly noted economic opportunities and acknowledged the fears of mining opponents. Both politicians stopped short of voicing direct support either way, no doubt angering both sides of this important issue.

Even more puzzling was that the two senators brought up the financial-assurances issue again. Klobuchar had the good sense to attach assurances to the project as a whole, but Franken urged that the Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the project be finalized “in a manner where taxpayers are protected from future remediation costs.”

This strategy of creating something to fear and then appearing to be there to protect the people was dramatically displayed on Feb. 14 by state Rep. Jean Wagenius, DFL-Minneapolis, and a handful of fellow state DFL legislators. Despite repeatedly being informed by DNR officials that

bankruptcy-proof financial assurances are required by law and must wait until the permitting process, Rep. Wagenius circumvented the review process to conduct her own hearings and was soundly criticized for conducting a circus show, although anti-mining activists loved her for doing it.

Fortunately, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which issued the NorthMet Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement a higher-than-expected EC-2 rating, recognizes that no company can possibly secure financial instruments until final costs are estimated.

In a March 13 letter, the EPA acknowledged, “We understand (the DNR) will not calculate detailed financial assurance until the Permit to Mine process.” And it recommended that the final environmental impact statement “include additional information on financial assurance as available.”  

Sens. Franken and Klobuchar decided not to follow the EPA’s lead but that of state Rep. Wagenius when they slapped that create-fear card onto the table. Oops!

By doing so, they tipped their hands. Minnesotans reading those letters see that the need to protect as many votes as possible seems far more important to the senators than protecting either the future of the mining industry or the concerns of environmental activists.

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton, another Democrat yet to voice definitive support for the NorthMet mining project, must be praying the environmental review is finalized quickly (Klobuchar expressed as much in her letter) so all the Democrats up for re-election can announce their support of the NorthMet project before it’s too late.

Considering that we’re talking about an area in Minnesota reported to contain $3 trillion in precious-metal reserves with strong support throughout the state for responsible mining, the fear of losing financial support from wealthy environmental groups must be powerful indeed for our governor and senators to gamble by not more strongly and publicly endorsing the NorthMet project.

Those candidates who realize the potential tax benefits to all Minnesotans through mining the largest undeveloped precious metals deposit in the world have got to be licking their chops over the upcoming elections campaign.

Harlan Christensen is a PolyMet Mining shareholder formerly of Duluth who now resides in the Twin Cities area.

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