During his brief public comment during a hearing on Jan. 16 in Duluth, state Sen. David Tomassoni summed up Minnesotans’ frustration with opponents of copper-nickel mining: When is enough, enough?

Tomassoni was among the vast majority of supporters attending the first of three hearings on PolyMet’s supplemental draft environment impact statement for its proposed copper-nickel mine near Hoyt Lakes. Heckled as he spoke to the crowd, the senator rightly questioned critics of the proposal, wondering if anything PolyMet did would ever be good enough.

If the supplemental draft is 2,000 pages, it is too long. If it were 100 pages, that would be too short. If the comment period were doubled, that wouldn’t be enough, he said.

For those of us concerned about job creation in this state, we know how critical the PolyMet project — and all copper-nickel mining projects — will be to our future development. Millions of construction hours hang in the balance. Hundreds of permanent, family-supporting jobs are waiting for struggling Iron Range communities. Our construction trades and business community know the potential, and it is time to acknowledge that systems are in place to do this right.

As co-founders of Jobs for Minnesotans, an organization advocating for economic development in Minnesota, we support the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and recognize its efforts to accomplish both environmental stewardship and job creation in our state.

In today’s global economy, copper and nickel have become common elements in nearly everything we use — from our cellphones to computers to tablets to the wires that carry electricity through our homes. The push for hybrid and electric vehicles depends on producing nickel for high-voltage car batteries. And when environmentalists point to the need to find new energy sources, they conveniently forget that there are more than 4.5 tons of copper in a wind turbine.

We use these metals, we need these metals and we can mine these metals here in Minnesota.

PolyMet’s environmental-review process has been lengthy and thorough. We trust the multiple state and federal agencies that have been involved in developing this document. We trust the DNR to read and listen to all public comments and to remain transparent throughout this process. We are confident in our state’s ability to pursue new opportunities in an industry — mining — that we have worked in for more than a century. It is time to let these projects move forward.

Copper-nickel mining will provide jobs for heavy equipment operators, engineers, miners, safety coordinators, environmental technicians, administrators, accountants and many more. These are jobs we sorely need that will support other key industries, including green technology, health care and manufacturing. Our state is ready to start benefiting from this vast mineral deposit. Opponents aren’t working to improve these projects; they don’t want them, period.

Studying the environmental impact of copper-nickel mining is a scientific process. As environmentalists and outdoor enthusiasts ourselves, we understand the delicate balance needed to ensure that our rivers, lakes and streams remain unharmed for years to come. Our state and federal officials are trained to study these issues and to do their jobs effectively — now and when the mine is operating. Well-designed systems, well-tested technologies and dedicated professionals will work together to meet our rigorous standards.

Important projects that bring exciting new economic development to Minnesota should not be held hostage to small special-interest groups and the “not in my back yard” anti-development crowd. The economic opportunity that copper-nickel mining presents is exactly what our state needs to grow jobs and to mine the minerals we use in our daily lives. Copper-nickel mining is about embracing the future and beginning a new phase in Minnesota economic growth.


Harry Melander is president of the Minnesota Building and Construction Trades Council. David Olson is president of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce. They are co-founders of Jobs for Minnesotans.