Minnesota governor now supports PolyMet copper-nickel mine

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton says he’s moved from being “genuinely undecided” on the proposed PolyMet copper-nickel mine to being a genuine supporter of the project.

Dayton saids he’s not as comfortable with another proposed copper-nickel mine, Twin Metals near Ely, because it’s in a watershed that flows into the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. The federal government in the last weeks of President Barack Obama’s administration essentially declared at least a two-year time out on that project and said it wouldn’t renew the mineral rights leases it needs to proceed. Some members of Minnesota’s congressional delegation are trying to persuade President Donald Trump’s administration to reverse those decisions.

PolyMet has many backers because it promises 360 permanent jobs in the Hoyt Lakes-Babbitt area of northeastern Minnesota’s Iron Range, 600 indirect jobs and an annual economic benefit to St. Louis County of over $500 million. But environmentalists say it could lead to environmental disaster, citing the potential for acid mine drainage from the sulfide-bearing rocks and of spills if the tailings basin dam breaks.

“Nothing of that magnitude is risk free but I think it’s a risk worth taking and I support the project,” Dayton told the St. Paul Pioneer Press for a story published Tuesday. “But they still have to meet the environmental permitting requirements.”

The company is in the process of seeking those permits, and the Democratic governor said he won’t interfere with state agency permitting decisions.

Steve Morse, executive director of the Minnesota Environmental Partnership, told the Star Tribune of Minneapolis that he and his allies “respectfully disagree” with Dayton’s stance, which he called “befuddling.”

“It’s a high-risk project in a highly sensitive watershed,” Morse said. “As Minnesotans we ought to be protecting all of our water resources.”

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