The United Steelworkers has represented generations of Iron Range workers at mines, mills, processing facilities, clinics, nursing homes, and even a newspaper. We strive to be everyone's union. We are also proud to have worked for decades with employers to ensure that these companies are giving back to the communities where we live and work and not simply taking advantage of our natural resources for profit.

Emil Ramirez
Emil Ramirez
About 40 years ago, over the objections of many employers, our union supported legislation including the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, and Resource Conservation and Recovery Act because we understood then, as we do now, that occupational health and safety depends on an environment free of toxins.

In short, companies that invested in our workplaces, updated pollution control equipment, and changed existing practices to comply with these laws largely have been rewarded with longevity and stability. On the other hand, employers that fought compliance, refused to act responsibly, and lacked a vision for the future were the first to fail economically.

We have learned through decades of experience in a wide variety of industries and manufacturing settings that the idea that we must choose between good jobs and a clean environment is false. We cannot have good jobs without a clean environment; and we cannot have healthy, diverse communities without good jobs.

We recognize that many opponents of PolyMet's proposed NorthMet project have voiced concerns about the potentially negative impact the open-pit mine may have on the rivers and lakes of Northeastern Minnesota. Some critics raise valid and appropriate concerns while others oppose developing the mine under any circumstance.

We cannot and should not discount or ignore the exhaustive scientific studies and research that led multiple state and federal environmental-enforcement agencies to approve the land transfer and draft permits necessary for PolyMet Mining Corp. to move its project forward.

The environmental review for PolyMet to build and operate Minnesota's first copper-nickel-precious metals mine was completed in accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act and the Minnesota Environmental Policy Act by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, the U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and other agencies. Lasting about 10 years, the environmental review was the biggest and longest ever conducted in Minnesota.

The company's approved Final Environmental Impact Statement demonstrates that NorthMet is capable of meeting all applicable state and federal environmental standards.

PolyMet already has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in the NorthMet project and has committed to clean up legacy water issues from the former LTV Steel taconite mining and processing operations on the property.

As part of its Permit to Mine application, PolyMet also provided bankruptcy-proof financial assurance to cover environmental clean-up expenses if the mine closes, an important issue to the United Steelworkers.

Understanding PolyMet's demonstrated resolve to operate responsibly and advance the public's interest, more than 30 city, county, and other government and business institutions have endorsed the project by drafting and passing resolutions of support for NorthMet. The United Steelworkers is proud to stand with all of them and with Jobs for Minnesotans, a coalition of statewide business and labor groups formed to advance copper-nickel mining in Minnesota.

If and when permits are approved and PolyMet moves forward with the project, we expect hiring to ramp up quickly. More importantly, we anticipate that NorthMet will bring long-term job security for the next generation of Northeastern Minnesota workers.

NorthMet will create employment for about 700 workers during construction and directly provide 360 permanent, full-time jobs when production starts. According to an independent study by the University of Minnesota Duluth Labovitz School of Business and Economics, the project also will create more than 600 indirect jobs and generate approximately $515 million per year for St. Louis County.

At a time when too many families live with employment insecurity, we cannot allow this rare opportunity to create family-supporting, community-sustaining jobs slip away. With a viable business plan, a skilled workforce, and a market that has found its footing, we have confidence in NorthMet and sincerely believe in the project's ability to deliver on its promise of a more prosperous future in an environmentally responsible manner.

 

Emil Ramirez is director of the United Steelworkers’ District 11, which is based in Minneapolis. The district includes Minnesota, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming. He submitted this exclusively to the News Tribune.