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Lawmaker's View: Let science, law, process dictate PolyMet permitting

Compromise can have a variety of meanings for different folks. To me, compromise represents the middle ground — and throughout the long-lasting bid for PolyMet to obtain permits to mine in Northeastern Minnesota, there have been several compromises considered.

Erik Simonson Make no mistake, there are two sides firmly entrenched on the question regarding the viability of the mining proposal. But I can also tell you, based on countless conversations with people in Duluth and across Northeastern Minnesota, that most people lie somewhere between the two margins.

I fully understand and unequivocally accept the desire for Iron Range communities to want economic development in their hometowns. Iron ore mining has been a part of their heritage for generations, and they believe that evolution to other forms of mining is only natural and ought to be respected. You cannot, and should not, disparage anyone for wanting to make their home a more-prosperous place. Opening this proposed mine would result in many new jobs — and if you think for one minute they won't be good-paying union jobs, think again. I seriously doubt Iron Rangers would have it any other way.

On the other hand, many also have expressed genuine concern over this project. Most concerns can be narrowed down to an apprehension that any major breach of the proposed tailings basin could damage the watershed and have a negative impact on communities downstream. Again, I say, these folks should not be condemned for their concerns or their advocacy to keep our water clean. We all can agree that fresh water is critically important.

We also can agree that support groups on both sides have been instrumental in influencing the process as it has moved through many public hearings and comment periods.

So that leaves us with a private company investing millions of dollars in northern Minnesota to extract precious metals from the ground. It leaves us with a 10-plus-year permitting process that appears to be drawing to some sort of conclusion. It leaves us with a potential job growth in northern Minnesota's economies that has not been witnessed in a long time. And it leaves us with many people bookended by two strongly opposed sides.

Recipe for disaster? Divide? Or potential for compromise and lasting solutions based on science?

Minnesota has the tools at its disposal to ensure regulations are enforced, to demand adequate financial assurances, and to continually monitor all work through state agencies. I do not always agree with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, but as a legislator I will absolutely commit to providing the department adequate resources to enforce our laws.

I have been asked by many to oppose the PolyMet project. I have been asked by many to support the project. Strangely enough, this is not even an issue to be decided by the Minnesota Legislature. This is an agency issue — to be decided by the executive branch.

I have worked toward a fair and consistent process throughout my time in the Legislature. When activists tried to change the law to facilitate an easier procedure, I opposed that. When advocates tried to change the law to slow down the process, I opposed that. All along, I have consistently said, "Let our process work." Minnesota has a strong set of laws, rules, and regulations — and we need to let the science and current law dictate the course of this application.

Soon, presumably, there will be decisions on PolyMet's permit to mine application. Each of us will have an opinion as to whether we like it or dislike it, but we must believe in our process.

Most importantly, whatever the decision from the executive branch, we need to come together as Minnesotans to find a way to heal any rifts between the two sides. And that, in my mind, is the true spirit of compromise — a commitment between Minnesotans to identify challenges and find attainable solutions.

Sen. Erik Simonson of Duluth represents District 7 in the Minnesota Senate.

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