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Guest Column: Let’s wrap up PolyMet

Get the important project permitted.

Posted: Tuesday, November 10, 2015 12:50 pm (Mesabi Daily News)

U.S. REP. RICK NOLAN Washington 

After 10 long years, the rigorous approval process for PolyMet’s NorthMet copper, nickel and other precious metals mining project has reached a major milestone: The Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) was published this month in the Federal Register.

Having studied the details closely, and after numerous meetings with all the parties involved, I’m urging the co-lead agencies — the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Forest Service — to wrap things up so the project can be permitted and operational at the earliest possible date.

The decision whether or not to go forward with PolyMet and new mining on the Range is about process, not politics. PolyMet has always been candid in its willingness to comply with every rule, regulation and financial assurance the process requires to protect our environment and the clean water we all depend on.

Moreover, the FEIS represents a plan — and execution of that plan will require vigorous monitoring and enforcement. With those factors in mind, the reasons to support the project are clear.

First, as everyone knows, we need the jobs. With hundreds of miners laid off due to the illegal dumping of millions of tons of foreign government subsidized steel into our marketplace, PolyMet will bring hundreds of good paying new jobs to the Range. With more bad trade agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership threatening to exacerbate the crisis, we need the project up and running soon.

Second, our nation needs the copper, nickel and other precious minerals within the Duluth Complex to meet our needs in defense, manufacturing, high technology, health care, environmental “green” industries and medical research. In the future, essential minerals for groundbreaking new cancer treatments should come from northeastern Minnesota, reducing our reliance on platinum compounds we must now import from South Africa.

The hybrid cars, wind turbines, solar panels, phones, computers, scanners and other high tech devices that have transformed the world all require cooper and nickel. Yet despite the rich deposits we have right here in our own backyard, we are still importing 35 percent of all the copper used in America, and almost 100 percent of the nickel. That makes no sense.

Moreover, access to minerals is a potential national security issue. The U.S. Geological Survey reports that the United States is 100 percent dependent on foreign suppliers for 17 critically important minerals — and more than 50 percent dependent on foreign sources for at least 24 others.

The third big reason to support the PolyMet project is our obligation to the earth and environment — or as Pope Francis likes to say, “our common home.” By continuing to import the minerals we need for our products and technologies from China and other nations that sacrifice clean air, water and timber resources for short-term gain, we perpetuate a system that exploits the planet and harms workers. By doing copper and nickel mining the right way, PolyMet can establish a global standard for environmental stewardship worthy of our workers, our region and our great nation.

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Rick Nolan is the congressman for Minnesota’s 8th District, which includes the Iron Range

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