DNR at PolyMet Hearing: Minn. Mining Laws Will Protect Public

Updated: 03/12/2014 4:35 PM KSTP.com By: Tom Hauser

The $650 million copper-nickel mine proposed by PolyMet in Hoyt Lakes faced its first major hearing at the Minnesota State Capitol on Tuesday.

The focus was on the "financial assurance" the state will seek from the company to make sure it has the resources and a plan to clean up any potential environmental damage caused by the mining. 

"The DNR will not issue a permit to mine unless we're confident that the financial assurance is protective of Minnesota's taxpayers," Jess Richards of the Minnesota DNR testified before the House Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture Finance Committee.

The mine is projected to create 350 jobs along with many other construction jobs, which is bringing a lot of support from labor unions and some business groups in northeastern Minnesota. However, environmentalists say the mining proposed by PolyMet creates sulfides that could contaminate ground and surface water.

No exact figure has been determined for the "financial assurance" the company might have to make, but estimates of $200 to $400 million were floated at Tuesday's hearing. Lawmakers say taxpayers need to be protected now and in the future.

"We do have a fiduciary responsibility to future generations," Rep. John Benson, (DFL) Minnetonka, said.

But others cautioned against making PolyMet into a villain if they have a plan to mine safely.

"I've seen other companies walk away from significant investments," Rep. Dan Fabian (R) Roseau, told the committee. "I certainly hope this legislative session doesn't turn into, as the Duluth Tribune refers to it, as some kind of assassination attempt."

PolyMet has several more hurdles before gaining approval. The public can still add comment about the project's environmental impact study with the DNR until mid-March.