Standing room only for PolyMet hearing at capitol

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

The capitol hearing before the House Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture Finance Committee drew a standing room only crowd.

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.

KSTP reports the focus on the hearing was on the "financial assurance" package 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 mining.

According to KSTP, lawmakers floated estimates of $200 to $400 million for the "financial assurance" package at Tuesday's hearing, but no exact figure has been determined.

Lawmakers said taxpayers need to be protected now and in the future. Rep. John Benson, D-Minnetonka, said, "We do have a fiduciary responsibility to future generations."

The Duluth News Tribune reports Rep. Andrew Falk, D-Murdock, questioned whether PolyMet intends to follow up with financial promises. Falk said he thinks PolyMet is a shell company without enough assets to provide any financial assurance on the environment.

Falk didn't get a lot of answers to questions at Tuesday's hearings, according to the Duluth News Tribune. Vice President of PolyMet Mining Corp. Brad Moore said he would have to get others to answer the questions.

Other lawmakers weren't quite so tough on PolyMet.

KSTP reports Rep. Dan Fabian, R-Roseau, said, "I've seen other companies walk away from significant investments in the past." Fabian added that he hopes the upcoming legislative session doesn't turn into "some kind of assassination attempt."

There has not been a shortage of public comments on the plan. FOX 9 reports agency officials said at the hearing they received over 10,000 public comments on the environmental impact statement.

The DNR will continue to accept comments through March 13.

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

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