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Our View: More-reasonable mining reviews are needed

From the editorial: "Stauber’s (bill) can be signed into law not as some sort of giveaway to industry or mining ... but because it’s the way permitting and government ought to work."

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2020 News Tribune file photo / PolyMet Mining intern Mikayla Mellesmoen of Embarrass uses a water-quality monitoring meter to test Second Creek in Hoyt Lakes. The PolyMet project is an example of the lengthy permitting in the state of Minnesota that U.S. Rep. Pete Stauber is hoping to reduce with a bill in Congress.
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The government shouldn’t need 10 years, 15 years, or even longer to decide about a mining or other industrial project. But look no further than Northeastern Minnesota and PolyMet Mining’s proposal for just one maddening example of an anti-business, anti-industry, excessive permitting process.

For the second time in four months, U.S. Rep. Pete Stauber, R-Hermantown, has introduced a bill in Congress to fix that — to “streamline the permitting process for mining projects nationwide to secure domestic mineral supply chains.” A statement from Stauber’s office this week used the word “streamline.” A reasonable timeframe for decision-making seems simply respectful and responsible, though. And who doesn’t want government at all levels to be respectful and responsible?

Stauber’s Permitting for Mining Needs (PERMIT-MN) Act can be signed into law not as some sort of giveaway to industry or mining, as opponents undoubtedly will charge, but because it’s the way permitting and government ought to work.

“Unfortunately, our current permitting process fails to deliver our resources because it is far too often abused by keep-it-in-the-ground activists who oppose mining solely on ideological grounds,” Stauber said in the statement this week. “Our country, including my northern Minnesota district, is blessed with vast mineral wealth that should supply many of our needs. … Our House Republican majority is serious about restoring American mineral dominance, and the PERMIT-MN Act is the tip of the spear. Let's pass this common-sense legislation and get shovels in the ground while protecting our environment. Our nation’s security depends on it.”

Not only would the bill create certainty for miners and mining companies by setting time limits on reviews it would end frivolous lawsuits by banning those filed well after decisions are made. Such suits often are filed to delay a project, in the hopes of causing them to become economically unfeasible.

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Stauber’s bill also would cut red tape by designating a lead agency and authorizing memorandums of understanding between sponsors and state and local governments.

Those lining up to support PERMIT-MN include the National Association of Building Trades Unions, the American Exploration and Mining Association, the National Mining Association, and the Uranium Producers of America.

Rep. Bruce Westerman, R-Arkansas, a member of the House Natural Resources Committee, is also a supporter and an original co-sponsor.

“This legislation will speed up permitting timelines, fix holes in our supply chain, and more, resulting in an American economy that is stronger and safer than ever,” Rep. Westerman said in a statement in September. "It's time to face facts: Our daily lives are irrevocably linked to minerals. There is no way around it. From (electric-vehicle) batteries to dental imaging systems to the very device on which you're reading this, minerals are woven into the fabric of our society.

“Given this reality, it's imperative we shore up our supply chains to ensure our global adversaries can't establish a chokehold on our economy. We also need to radically overhaul our domestic permitting process, opening up access to mines across the country and showing the world how to produce these minerals in sustainable ways.”

Minnesota, with its stringent environmental standards and stiff penalties for irresponsible industry behaviors, can be a leader. But excessively long permitting processes can no longer be allowed to drive away the projects and industries needed to ensure our future. Surely, rigorous and thorough environmental reviews and assessments can be completed in a more reasonable timeframe than is happening now.

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