Skip to main content

Boreal Community Media

Former Governor Carlson sounds off on PolyMet mining proposal

Oct 22, 2019 05:12AM ● By Editor
Former Minnesota Gov. Arne Carlson gestures while speaking Monday, Sept. 23, 2019, during a Duluth for Clean Water rally on the steps of City Hall in Duluth. Photo: Clint Austin / Forum News Service

By Matthew Guerry of the Grand Forks Herald - October 22, 2019

Former Gov. Arne Carlson asked the small crowd gathered Monday, Oct. 21, at Edina City Hall a question: If it were up to them, would they allow PolyMet to open what would be Minnesota's first copper-nickel mine? 

The crowd at the town hall-style listening session answered with a resounding "no." Not one person out of a group of about 50 raised a hand in support of the project, which Carlson has spoken out against at length.

"I can't think of a single decision that is more important than the decision on PolyMet," he told the crowd.

Carlson, who served as a Republican but is now an independent, didn't hold back Monday in his criticism of the Toronto, Canada-based company or its proposal to establish an open-pit mine and processing facility near Hoyt Lakes and Babbitt. He had harsh words, too, for the state and federal regulators involved with the issuing of permits to PolyMet for the project, calling their actions "the face of corruption."

Several of the state-issued permits that PolyMet obtained for the mine have been suspended by the Minnesota Court of Appeals. A hearing on the company’s dam safety and mining permits is slated for Wednesday, Oct. 23. 

Opponents of the proposed mine are concerned that it will wreak havoc on the environment and the nearby Boundary Waters Canoe Area. The mine and its related facilities would disturb approximately 1,400 acres of land, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Environmental groups including the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy and the Center for Biological Diversity worry that the project will drain and pollute the area’s wetlands, which are a source of freshwater for Lake Superior. By PolyMet’s own estimate, the project would disturb about 900 acres of wetlands.

Loss of those wetlands, opponents say, will spell the destruction of a natural greenhouse gas absorbent as well as a wildlife habitat.

Proponents of the project, including some state legislators, have hailed it as a job creator. The mine and the processing facility, which would be housed in the old LTV Steel Co. plant in Hoyt Lakes, would support about 300 employees. 

Other lawmakers have not reacted as warmly. Over the summer, 18 Democratic legislators, most of whom hail from the Twin Cities area, wrote a letter to Gov. Tim Walz to voice their concerns about the project. In response, a bipartisan group of 70 statehouse representatives — including some Iron Range Democrats — penned a letter of support.

Carlson, who served as governor from 1991-99, spoke out about the project’s “appalling lack of transparency” and potential to pollute in late September, according to the Duluth News Tribune. Since then, he has attended several town hall-style listening sessions in the Twin Cities to speak out against it.

Speaking in Edina on Monday, Carlson was joined by members of the Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness Area and state Rep. Heather Edelson, DFL-Edina. Although Democratic lawmakers are split on the proposal, Edelson cautioned against boiling down the controversy that surrounds it to a divide between rural and metropolitan Minnesotans.

Carlson was less reserved, and said that Democrats in the Range have been pulling away from the party on social issues for years.

The two agreed that the demand for the jobs, while valid, must be weighed carefully against the need to protect Minnesota's natural resources. The groups challenging PolyMet's permits in court claim the geographic disruption that the mine would require could result in an increased release of methylmercury, a toxic substance, into the environment.

Carlson and Chris Knopf, executive director of the Friends of the Boundary Waters, also took aim at PolyMet parent company Glencore's safety record. According to the New York Times, the failure of the company's Brumadinho dam in Brazil — where mining byproducts were stored — killed more than 200 people in January and sent millions of cubic meters of toxic mining waste downstream.

More than anything, Carlson said that more public hearings should have been held before permits were issued to PolyMet.

Speaking with Forum News Service after Monday's event, Carlson responded to criticism of his foray into the mining saga by saying that he has a "duty to speak out."

"What is this nonsense that because you left office, you suddenly lost your right to participate in society? What nonsense that is," he said.  

To read the original article and see related reporting, follow this link to the Grand Forks Herald. 

Upcoming Events Near You
Boreal Ship Spotter - larger view here