House Speaker Thissen: No legislation on PolyMet this session

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There will be no mining legislation this session, according to the Duluth News Tribune. House Speaker Paul Thissen, D-Minneapolis, told the Forum News Service Friday, "the best thing is to let the process work its way out."

Controversy continues over whether and how PolyMet can mitigate environmental damage from the mine it wants to build on the Iron Range.

PolyMet plans to mine about 32,000 tons of rock just north of Hoyt Lakes every day, yielding about 76,000 tons of copper each year.

Environmentalists say that plan will pollute the Boundary Waters and destroy wildlife habitat.

Speaker Thissen said all sides want both jobs and environmental protection, but getting to the right equation will take time.

“We do have this process in place,” he said. “It feels like the information is getting out there. I feel this is going to be an extensive process.”

PolyMet has said $200 million might be sufficient to protect the watershed when the mine closes, with an undetermined annual assessment after that.

Environmentalists launched a new website last week detailing their objections. Some have argued the Legislature should shut down the permitting process instead of letting the DNR lead it.

At a standing-room-only legislative hearing Tuesday, lawmakers floated estimates of $200 to $400 million for a “financial assurance” package the permit would require.

Rep. John Benson, D-Minnetonka said, "We do have a fiduciary responsibility to future generations."

Rep. Andrew Falk, D-Murdock, said he thought PolyMet was unlikely to meet financial commitments.

Other legislators worried that the state would lose out if the company walks away.

FOX 9 reported DNR officials said at the hearing they received over 10,000 public comments on the environmental impact statement. The comment period is open through March 13.

The plan, if approved, would put the mine near the northern Minnesota town of Babbitt and a processing plant near Hoyt Lakes. It would be the first mine of its kind in the state.

Supporters of the plan say the mine will create around 360 jobs at the mine itself and another 600 indirect jobs.

Thissen said that fellow House Democrats, who hold a majority of the votes, do not appear to be leaning “one way or the other” on the PolyMet issue.

“We share Speaker Thissen’s desire that the regulatory process be allowed to work,” said PolyMet Vice President Bruce Richardson. “Because the environmental review and permitting processes are comprehensive and allow for public involvement, we’re confident that many if not all of the issues that are being raised today will be addressed at the appropriate time and place in coming months.”

The Duluth newspaper says PolyMet has spent $150 million to get to this point, including $22 million for an environmental review, and would spend another $450 million to build the mine and refurbish the old LTV taconite mine processing center for basic copper and nickel ore processing.

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