ST. PAUL — A handful of Democratic state lawmakers on Thursday, July 25, split with their peers in the Legislature, voicing their support for Minnesota's first copper-nickel mining project.
In a letter and in separate statements, five state legislators said they supported the development of the PolyMet mine and processing plant set to be built near Hoyt Lakes and Babbitt. The lawmakers were joined by a pair of Republican lawmakers who also represent the Iron Range.
The comments came as a rebuke to 18 Democratic lawmakers predominantly from the Twin Cities who wrote a letter to Gov. Tim Walz a day earlier asking him to drop all permits for the project following recent reports that the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency failed to address concerns from the EPA about the mine.
The group of Iron Range lawmakers defended the project and rejected efforts by environmental groups and Democratic colleagues to ring alarm bells about the validity of the project's permits.
"The claims by metro legislators and anti-mining groups about PolyMet Mining are downright fabrications," the group of six legislators wrote. "The people of the Iron Range deserve better. The people of the state of Minnesota deserve better. There is no scandal. The agencies have done their jobs. The letter of the law was followed to a 'T.'"
Sens. David Tomassoni and Justin Eichorn along with Reps. Dave Lislegard, Rob Ecklund, Julie Sandstede and Dale Lueck wrote the letter and several issued separate statements defending the project. Tomassoni, Lislegard, Ecklund and Sandstede are Democrats. Eichorn and Lueck are Republicans.
“People of the Iron Range have been waiting patiently for this project and the jobs that come with it," Lislegard, a representative from Aurora, said in a separate statement. "Minnesota’s permitting process demonstrates we can perform this mining in a way that not only creates good-paying jobs but will protect our treasured clean water resources. I will continue to educate, advocate and fight for our way of life and put people of the Iron Range before politics.”
In another statement, Sen. Erik Simonson, DFL-Duluth, also separated himself from his peers who asked the governor to suspend the permits, saying Polymet followed the appropriate process to move forward.
Republican leaders of the Minnesota House of Representatives and Senate voiced their support for the project on Wednesday and defended PolyMet's efforts to obtain proper permitting.
Opponents of the mining project argue the project could send tainted runoff into the St. Louis River watershed and Lake Superior. Supporters, meanwhile, say the project would bring much-needed jobs to the region.
Earlier in the week, environmental groups urged Attorney General Keith Ellison to investigate whether PolyMet — the company heading the mining project — adequately represented its relationship with Glencore, a Swiss mining company that recently became PolyMet's majority shareholder. Ellison said he was looking into their concerns.
And Democratic lawmakers in a letter on Wednesday raised similar questions to Walz. The 18 DFL legislators pointed to a recently released EPA memo, first shared with the Star Tribune, which showed the federal agency continued to urge the MPCA to set stiffer standards on its water permit for PolyMet up until two days before the permit was issued.
"We need to recognize that this flawed process resulted in flawed permits," the lawmakers wrote in the letter.
The EPA's Office of the Inspector General and the Minnesota Office of the Legislative Auditor are probing how the EPA's comments were handled as part of the application process. And the state Court of Appeals has cited "procedural irregularities" in the permitting process as it sent the case back to a district court for a hearing.
Walz has said his administration is reviewing the permits and the processes by which they were granted.
Additionally, the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission is investigating Glencore, the majority shareholder in PolyMet, for alleged corrupt practices, and the Justice Department subpoenaed Glencore for alleged money laundering and possible corruption.