Nolan aims to aid PolyMet; Bipartisan legislation would advance necessary land exchange

From the July 8 edition of the Ely Echo

by Tom Coombe -

Legislation proposed this week by U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan would make it easier to open the region’s first copper-nickel mine.
Nolan has introduced a bill, with bipartisan support, to force the completion of a long-discussed land swap that’s needed to complete the project near Hoyt Lakes.
While the bill would not supercede ongoing permitting processes, it would appear to override court challenges and clear the way for a land exchange that has been in the works for several years and endorsed by the U.S. Forest Service earlier this year.
Nolan, an outspoken advocate for copper-nickel mining projects in northeastern Minnesota, said this week it’s time to move forward “after 12 years of scrupulous review.”
Environmental groups, however, are pushing back.
The land exchange has been subject to four separate lawsuits since the Forest Service announced its approval, including a pair of suits alleging that the deal greatly undervalues the land at $550 per acre.
Nolan’s legislation calls for PolyMet to receive 6,650 acres of federal land at the proposed mine site between Babbitt and Hoyt Lakes in exchange for a roughly equal amount of undeveloped land in the adjacent Superior National Forest.
The land exchange is seen as critical to move the project forward, and PolyMet officials welcomed Nolan’s legislation.
Nolan’s bill would require the land exchange to be completed within 90 days of passage.
He has enlisted support from both sides of the aisle, including fellow Minnesotans Collin Peterson (D), Tom Emmer (R) and Jason Lewis (R).
Also signing on in support were U.S. Rep. Bruce Westerman (R-Arkansas) and U.S. Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Arizona).
Both Westerman and Gosar joined Nolan, as well as Emmer, in a June tour of northeastern Minnesota that included a visit to a Range taconite mine, meetings with local elected officials and representatives of Twin Metals Minnesota, and a walk through some of the federal land that could become off limits to mining under a plan advanced last year by the Obama Administration.
Nolan has emboldened mining supporters and enraged mining opponents with a series of moves aimed at advancing copper-nickel projects such as the ones proposed by PolyMet as well as Twin Metals Minnesota.
Those projects are at the heart of an ongoing dispute, with mining opponents saying that copper-nickel mining projects are unsafe and could result in pollution that would damage area waterways and the region’s economy.
Supporters say the environment is already protected by existing safeguards and that the region badly needs good-paying mining jobs.