Our view: Despite ‘hell,’ support for PolyMet miningAlthough he has “caught some hell — from friends,” specifically from fellow Democrats, U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan remains commendably steadfast in his support of precious-metals mining on the Iron Range.
Although he has “caught some hell — from friends,” specifically from fellow Democrats, U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan remains commendably steadfast in his support of precious-metals mining on the Iron Range.
Consider an exchange at a climate-change conference he hosted two weekends ago at the University of Minnesota Duluth.
“You do a tourist’s trip through PolyMet and declare that everything is going to be OK, and you don’t know anything about it,” an attendee barked at Nolan, the congressman recalled in a meeting yesterday with the News Tribune editorial board.
“Actually,” Nolan said he responded. “I’m not a tourist. What you’re concerned about is the effluent that’s going to be emitted and the sulfuric content in the water.”
“Yeah, you’re darn right it is,” the man said before being silenced by Nolan.
“Well, you know, actually, I know a little bit about reverse osmosis,” Nolan said of the process PolyMet will employ to treat wastewater and prevent pollution. “I sold reverse osmosis systems throughout the world, and I don’t know if you’re familiar with it or not but you take a high-pressure pump and you push (the wastewater) through a film, and you can design that film to do whatever you want. You can have 400 parts per million sulfur or 100 parts or 25 parts or 10 parts or zero parts. You just have to decide what you want.
“The technology is there, and I’m not just a tourist walking through and declaring that this stuff will work. Of course it’ll work. It’s just a matter of whether or not we’re going to require it and whether or not (the mining companies are) willing to do it. (PolyMet has) said, ‘Yeah, we’re willing to do it.’ ”
Late last month the Lake County DFL slammed Nolan and his support of the National Strategic and Critical Minerals Production Act, which was written to get mining companies mining sooner. PolyMet has been working toward a mining permit for about a decade. Critics of the act claim it could jeopardize environmental reviews. Nolan was one of only 15 Democrats to join 231 Republicans in supporting the act when it passed the House in September. It was hardly the first time Nolan has been willing to break from his Democratic party line.
With regard to metals mining, not even a recent revelation that water from PolyMet’s operations may need to be treated for as long as 500 years was able to deter the congressman and his support. There already are 7 billion metric tons of exposed waste rock from past mining on the Iron Range, he pointed out to the editorial board. And much of it has potentially hazardous sulfuric content, even if it is from traditional iron-ore mining and not precious-metals mining.
“Everything has a long-term impact. I mean, (Interstate 35 in Duluth) has a 500-year impact,” Nolan said. “The other argument I reject is it hasn’t been done before. Well, everything virtually is something that has never been done before. You know, at some point, somebody created the wheel.
“If we have the political will, in my judgment, we’re in a new era,” he continued. “There have been so many new discoveries and new technologies and changes. There have been some big changes. The government is way behind and needs to adapt to the modern times. And I am just convinced with all my heart and soul we can move ahead with the mining opportunities that exist up here, which are quite phenomenal, and protect our lakes and our waters and our streams.
“The days when you had to pick between the environment and business development are long since passed. We have the knowledge and the technology to be able to (safely allow precious-metals mining in Northeastern Minnesota),” Nolan said.
And for saying it so boldly, he certainly can expect to catch some more hell — even from his friends.