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Our View: Stauber makes good on priority

Newly sworn-in U.S. Rep. Pete Stauber's first bill was the one he said it would be — and one all Northlanders can support, no matter how any of us may feel about copper-nickel mining in Northeastern Minnesota.

Stauber's Superior National Forest Land Exchange Act of 2019, introduced Monday, would complete a land swap first proposed under the administration of President Barack Obama, one that was long ago approved by the U.S. Forest Service after a full National Environmental Policy Act review, and a deal pushed for by Republican Stauber's Democrat predecessor, U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan. Fellow Minnesota Democrats in D.C., U.S. Sens. Tina Smith, Amy Klobuchar, and Al Franken, all also supported this trade of real estate.

Yes, it would help to make reality a long-proposed and even longer-debated and scrutinized PolyMet NorthMet mine. But copper-nickel mining aside, the land exchange between the federal government and the mining company is just a good deal for Minnesota, taxpayers, and anyone who loves the outdoors.

As previous News Tribune editorials have pointed out, the public is to receive more land than it'd give up in this deal: 6,690 acres would become part of the Superior National Forest in exchange for 6,650 acres at the mining site near Babbitt. What's more, the land to be received by the public has road access, making it ideal for things like fishing and hunting. It also offers access to wild rice lakes. And it includes valuable shoreland property, including frontage on the Pike River in the headwaters of Lake Vermilion. The land the public is to give up, by stark contrast, is almost entirely inaccessible and has been surrounded by mining activities since the 1950s.

Also publicly desirable, if PolyMet does come to fruition, the new mine would repurpose an abandoned industrial site. An estimated 300 skilled construction workers would be put to work to build out the facility, and approximately 360 full-time jobs would be expected to be created after construction, plus another 500 spinoff jobs.

The PolyMet mine can operate safely, an exhaustive and lengthy environmental review showed, and it is worth embracing for its $500 million estimated annual economic impact on our region. That's like the windfall of hosting a Super Bowl — every year for 20-plus years, as the company and others have pointed out.

An added bonus: all the new jobs would help to diversify the Iron Range economy and level out the cyclical booms and busts of iron-ore mining.

"Minnesota is blessed with an abundance of natural resources that puts us in a unique position to not just ensure that the United States remains competitive on a global level, but also to create good-paying jobs for hardworking folks here at home," Stauber said in a statement Monday. "Like all Minnesotans, I treasure our state's natural beauty. With 21st-century technology, responsible mining and preserving the environment are not mutually exclusive. We can and must do both."

With or without mining, this land exchange is too good a deal to not finally get done. President Obama knew that. So did his administration; Minnesota's U.S. senators; 8th Congressional District Rep. Rick Nolan; and 145 national and Minnesota-based organizations, businesses, unions, elected officials, and others who signed a letter at the end of November urging congressional approval.

It's no wonder the swap was the first item tackled by Northeastern Minnesota's incoming freshman congressman — a priority on which he made good.