U.S. Rep.-elect Chip Cravaack told a crowd of Republicans on Monday that rejuvenating the mining industry in northern Minnesota is one of his top priorities when he assumes office in January.

One project in particular, the proposed PolyMet copper-nickel mine in Hoyt Lakes, has been stymied by the environmental regulatory process. He said another mine, the Nokomis Project, has been proposed just south of Ely.

"This is an unbelievable asset we have, but government has been in the way for us to be able to tap those resources," Cravaack said. "And that is my No. 1 goal in the Eighth District."

The Lindstrom Republican said his "first meeting" after the election was with Joe Scipioni, CEO of PolyMet. Cravaack's predecessor, Rep. Jim Oberstar, was also critical of the PolyMet delay -- but was unsuccessful getting the mine opened.

Earlier in his speech, Cravaack accused the Environmental Protection Agency of "legislating through regulating."

Cravaack surprised the political world this November when he ousted 18-term incumbent Rep. Jim Oberstar in the Eighth Congressional District, traditionally a DFL stronghold.

He acknowledged that reelection will not come easily and said he hopes a scheduled redrawing of the congressional districts will work in his favor. Cravaack said he also plans to travel extensively in northern Minnesota.

"My goal is to get in the district as much as possible. Get our name out there," Cravaack said.

He added that Democrats, who held the seat since 1947, plan to wage a significant offensive.

"I've been told by the DCCC I'm probably one of their No. 1 targets for 2012," Cravaack said, referring to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. "So they think that's a seat that they're entitled to. So we're ready for that fight."

Asked by an audience member what he thought of the Obama administration's compromise over the Bush-era tax cuts, Cravaack said he has yet to read the bill.

Eric Roper • 612-673-1732