State issues mining permits to PolyMet: Now what?

PolyMet seeks to use the old LTV Steel processing plant, formerly the Erie mine, near Hoyt Lakes for use as a copper-nickel mine processing facility. (PHOTO: Joel Dinda, Flickr CC)

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources issued permits for PolyMet Mining on Thursday, ending one long chapter of this story and beginning another.

The permits mean PolyMet is now free to mine copper, nickel and other minerals from its proposed location near the former LTV iron mine at Hoyt Lakes. But doing so is not “free.” In fact, the company now must raise nearly $1 billion to begin construction, mostly likely through sale or partnership with a large mining concern. The international mining conglomerate Glencore, part owner and financier of PolyMet, seems the most likely candidate.

And, of course, the permits will be subject to legal challenges from environmental groups and Ojibwa bands. These groups fear the long term risks of this form of mining and reject some of the state’s conclusions that led to the permits.

“We look forward to building and operating a modern mine and developing the minerals that sustain and enhance our modern world,” said Jon Cherry, president and CEO, in a company press release. “Responsibly developing these strategic minerals in compliance with these permits while protecting Minnesota’s natural resources is our top priority as we move forward.”

The politics

The story drops just five days before next week’s election. That may be a coincidence, but it’s a doozy of a coincidence. It’s not yet clear how this news will affect the attitudes of voters heading to the polls next Tuesday.

On one hand it demonstrates that not all Democrats are steadfast mining opponents. Many in the mining lobby have made them out to be. DFL Congressional nominee Joe Radinovich was among the first political figures to celebrate the news Thursday afternoon.

“The role of our next member of Congress is to ensure that we all work together to make sure that projects like PolyMet happen the right way and to bring new life to our mining way of life on the Range,” said Radinovich in the statement. “We need to fight for good union jobs at these projects, and continue to ensure that they meet or exceed the environmental review process we have in place at the state and federal level. I’m proud to continue that fight.”

His Republican opponent Pete Stauber joined him in cheering the result. He argued, as always, that he was even more pro-mining than Radinovich. He cited his support from President Trump and advocacy for mining near the Boundary Waters.

The end result might be that a few Iron Range voters become more comfortable voting for Radinovich. He had also backed the Steelworkers union during their recent contract struggles. Or, maybe nobody changes their mind, having already firmly adopted political orientation on this issue.

On the other hand, this is dour news for opponents to copper nickel mining. Many had prepared to vote for Radinovich as the best option, but some of them are pretty sore now. The independent candidate Skip Sandman is a mining opponent, and could benefit from all this ennui. But who knows? The national political environment also motivates voters.

I keep arguing that A) PolyMet’s biggest challenge is economic, not political. And B) your average 8th District voter isn’t as passionate for or against mining as they’re made out to be. Other issues weigh on their minds, too.

Nevertheless, a few hundred votes could swing this race. Anything that moves the needle could be the pivotal factor in the election.

Now what?

The really important takeaway is that this story moves out of its most political stage. The state issued permits. Now we find out if PolyMet’s optimistic financial forecast for its project pans out. It’s on them now.


Comments

  1. Does Radinovich support push any amount of D votes to the 3rd party candidate? Is that a wash in the # of independents who might go to Radinovich after seeing his stance on this?

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