Weather Forecast


Our view: Process is working for PolyMet project

The process is working. Just as it’s supposed to be working. Just as intended.

For years, those opposed to mining copper and other precious metals in Northeastern Minnesota railed bitterly against existing environmental laws, skeptical they’d be tough enough to protect our water and air. And they chastised regulators and politicians, certain they wouldn’t actually stand up to jobs-promising global mining interests.

But they were. And they did. In 2010, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ruled that the plan submitted then by PolyMet to begin mining was inadequate. It didn’t go far enough to assure government officials the project would protect the forests and wild waters. The document was sent back for improvements, for more work.

Last week, a new plan from PolyMet, a greatly revised and improved plan, was deemed adequate by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. PolyMet showed its operations would meet all federal laws and state regulations, among the toughest in the nation.

The environmental review process was a long one, more than 10 years, so long that lawmakers, DNR officials, the governor’s office and others can review it for improvements. Surely we can be more efficient and still adequately vet an application. If not, Minnesota risks scaring away future industry, development and investment.

As long as it was, the state’s environmental review process proved effective. PolyMet finally can proceed with applications for permits that will allow construction and mining. And Minnesotans can be assured of a safe project as outlined.

“The environmental review process on PolyMet has been the longest in state history. More than 90,000 hours of staff time has made this one of the most scrutinized mining projects in the country,” Rep. Rob Ecklund, DFL-International Falls, said in a statement Thursday, the day the determination was announced. “The time spent in environmental review has been vital to ensuring that we move forward with copper-nickel mining in Minnesota without detrimental environmental impacts. Today was a step in the right direction where we’ll began to put people back to work and ensure that mining continues to be an important part of Minnesota’s economy in the 21st century.”

“Today’s decision is a major win for the Iron Range,” U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan said, also in a statement. “This is an important step for a project that will bring hundreds of good jobs to our region while sustaining the integrity of our rivers, lakes and land.”

The PolyMet project certainly is worth embracing for its $500 million estimated economic impact on our region. That’s like having the Super Bowl here — every year for 20-plus years, PolyMet CEO Jon Cherry and others have said. An estimated 300 skilled construction workers will be needed to build out facilities. Approximately 360 full-time jobs are then to be created, with another 500 spinoff jobs.

Those jobs would help diversify the Iron Range economy and help level out the cyclical booms and busts of the now-foundering iron ore mining industry.

As reported by the News Tribune on Friday, the company and regulators now will work on the 23 permits necessary before PolyMet can begin mining. In addition, a federal review of the so-called NorthMet project near Hoyt Lakes continues on a separate timeline. And legal challenges remain almost a certainty. We haven’t heard the last from “those opposed.”

So the process continues. But last week’s determination contributed to an increasingly convincing argument that the process is working.