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Views from the mining industry

Is PolyMet a big deal?

“Polymet will be creating the same economic impact as having the Super Bowl in Northeastern Minnesota every year for 24 years. They estimate when the Super Bowl comes to Minnesota (in two years), it’s going to be a half-a-billion-dollar, a 500-million-dollar, benefit to the state of Minnesota. That’s what PolyMet is going to do, plus (more), each and every year for 24 years. Let’s start there. Let’s look at the economic opportunity and then let’s go from there.”

How can government help?

“The biggest thing government can do from the perspective of getting new projects up and going is make some decisions. We have a strong regulatory process in place, you have environmental-review laws, you have clean water acts, you’ve got all these environmental agencies, the Department of Interior, Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Forest Service and everything in between. And you have all of these agencies tripping over each other, not necessarily the right hand knowing what the left hand is doing, and they need to do a better job of coordinating, cooperating, and knowing who’s making the decisions and finalizing decisions.”

Will mining be safe?

“The system is in place. The system is working. Any company that comes forward has to demonstrate they can meet Minnesota’s strict air- and water-quality standards or they won’t move forward. … There are strong standards in place. Companies have to demonstrate they’re going to meet those standards, and that’s the only way they’re going to be allowed to operate.”

With a down global market for metals, can PolyMet be profitable?

“Right now, even with the low copper prices, any company that’s moving forward sees the opportunity of profitability. … Right now the answer is yes, these companies can still be profitable and the opportunities (are there) for significant return on investment. (The market) will rebound in the future because the demand is not going to go down. We’re not going to stop buying cellphones and laptops and driving cars and building wind turbines and the like. So, yes, these companies can be and will still be profitable and will move forward.”

Frank Ongaro of Duluth is executive director of Mining Minnesota, which advocates for the environmentally responsible mining of copper, nickel and other precious metals. His comments here were made at a chamber-hosted and News Tribune-sponsored forum Tuesday morning at Valentini’s Vicino Lago restaurant in Duluth.

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