A group of Republican state lawmakers — and a few Iron Range Democrats — have sent a letter to Gov. Tim Walz voicing strong support for PolyMet Mining Corp.’s proposed $1 billion copper-nickel mine in northeast Minnesota.
The Aug. 6 letter has 70 signatures and is a direct response to a letter 18 DFLers sent Walz about two weeks ago asking the governor to suspend all of PolyMet’s state permits while various environmental and legal concerns are addressed.
“Living wage jobs are the backbone of our communities, and we will not stand idle when misinformed legislators levy false attacks against valued industries in our state like mining,” the legislators wrote.
According to a news release accompanying the letter, the coalition is led by Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, and House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown.
Sen. Tom Bakk, a powerful Iron Range Democrat, is conspicuously absent from the list of signers.
The letter was sent on the same day the Minnesota Court of Appeals took the unusual step of suspending a crucial water discharge permit for PolyMet, pending findings of a court probe into alleged “irregularities” in how the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency handled the permit. The permit, one of more than 20 PolyMet secured in its yearslong pursuit of the project, regulates pollution in the wastewater discharged from the operation, including heavy metals such as mercury, lead and arsenic. It’s now the subject of three separate inquires, including one by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Inspector General.
The new letter doesn’t ask Walz to do anything. It focuses on rebutting key concerns the Democrats raised in their letter: the alleged irregularities in the water quality permit; the safety of the mine’s mine-waste dam; the adequacy of PolyMet’s financial assurance package; the implications of the company’s new ownership by Switzerland-based Glencore; and the fact that the state never conducted a separate health impact study in addition to its environmental impact study.
This week’s letter called those concerns “last-ditch efforts meant to throw sand in the gears” of what would be the state’s first hard-rock mine, a project prized by many Iron Range residents and business leaders as a chance to restore northern Minnesota’s once-mighty mining industry.
Regarding PolyMet’s disputed water quality permit, they said state regulators addressed the EPA’s criticisms and that the permit met legal requirements.
The open-pit copper-nickel mine would be built near Babbitt, with processing facilities and a mine-waste dam near Hoyt Lakes. The operation would be near wetlands and other waters upstream from the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa that drain into the St. Louis River, which runs into Lake Superior.