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PolyMet land exchange: Right or wrong? Right: Dragged-out process demands closure

On behalf of APEX, the Area Partnership for Economic Expansion, and Jobs for Minnesotans, the coalition representing business, labor, and communities across the state, I'm writing to voice support for the Superior National Forest Land Exchange Act of 2017, which was introduced in the U.S. House in late June by Congressman Rick Nolan.

Brian Hanson

The legislation is important because it would require the U.S. Forest Service and PolyMet Mining to move forward with the NorthMet land exchange and have it completed within 90 days. Without this type of action, it is likely the U.S. government — therefore, taxpayers — would face significant expense in a drawn-out, litigious process brought by mining opponents. In addition, PolyMet could face further unnecessary delays in its project. This would be a shame since all lands to be exchanged were thoroughly examined in an independent appraisal process. Every step of the way, the agencies and PolyMet followed the federally prescribed process.

Importantly, PolyMet will still be required to acquire necessary permits before construction can begin on the NorthMet Project. This legislation is not a signature of approval, but rather it is designed to bring certainty that the land exchange will progress expeditiously by ratifying what the U.S. Forest Service already determined in the Record of Decision earlier this year.

Our organizations have been watching the NorthMet Project and land exchange progress through the established, comprehensive environmental review process as required by the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA, and the Minnesota Environmental Policy Act. We've participated in the public-input process and anxiously awaited the release of the Final Environmental Impact Statement. That EIS was an enormous achievement after many years of effort by multiple parties to ensure the project is done right.

Earlier this year, we celebrated the Final Record of Decision, approving the land exchange as an important milestone for copper-nickel mining in Minnesota. It was a decision that validated the project's environmental review and acknowledged that the land exchange is in the best interest of the public.

Unfortunately, the land exchange has not yet been finalized due to actions taken by parties which do not support the outcomes of this thorough process.

PolyMet's project would create more than 1,000 direct and indirect jobs in an economically depressed area of our state. The project also would provide a domestic source of essential strategic minerals and utilize modern technology through operating practices that protect our air and water quality. The job growth and tax revenue would have a significant impact on our state's economy — estimated at $515 million annually. Minnesota's 8th Congressional District, our state, and the country stand to benefit from PolyMet's investment.

Thankfully, the Superior National Forest Land Exchange Act of 2017 offers the opportunity to bring closure and certainty to what has been a long, drawn-out issue mired by lawsuits against the government. If this bill becomes law, we can return to the fair process set forth under NEPA and the state of Minnesota.

Brian Hanson is president and CEO of APEX, the Area Partnership for Economic Expansion, in Duluth and is a board member of Jobs for Minnesotans, a coalition of labor, industry and municipal officials.

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