Minnesota Court of Appeals Delays PolyMet Project

Yesterday the Minnesota Court of Appeals dealt a setback to the proposed PolyMet copper-nickel mine in northern Minnesota. In the ruling, the Court sent two crucial permits, the permit to mine and the dam safety permit, back to the Department of Natural Resources. The ruling also stated the agency must hold a contested case hearing, which would require an administrative law judge to examine additional evidence and testimony on the project.

The ruling is bad news for the Northeastern Minnesota communities who are eager for the economic boost that would accompany more mining. The PolyMet mine would provide 360 high-paying jobs at the mine, and the project would support a total of 1,000 jobs after indirect and induced jobs are accounted for.

This development is crucially important for the Iron Range because mining jobs are good jobs. The latest economic data shows mining jobs in St. Louis County paid nearly $99,000, dwarfing the average compensation for St. Louis County as a whole, and especially jobs in the leisure and hospitality industry.

This is important, because the annual average wages for tourism jobs in St. Louis County are less than $17,000 per year, a pittance compared to the wages provided by mining. They are often seasonal, hourly jobs without benefits, not the good jobs liberals seem to want everywhere else.

I wrote about this paradox recently, as the latest of liberal talking points appears to be that the current economy isn’t very good at all because despite historically low unemployment, many of the jobs that are currently being created are low-paying jobs in the service and tourism sectors. But if liberals in Minnesota want to complain about the rise of low-paying jobs in these sectors, they had better be in favor of more mining in Minnesota.

The best part of these jobs is that they need not come at the expense of the environment. Modern mining techniques allow mines to function while minimizing their impact on the environment.

The Eagle Mine is a nickel mine in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan that has provided an economic boost to the region while operating in an environmentally responsible way. Additionally, regulators in Michigan are in the process of authorizing another non-ferrous mine, the zinc-gold Back Forty surface mine.  The Back Forty, now has final water discharge, air quality, wetlands, and mining permits, with only dam safety permit left to obtain.

Just like our cars have gotten cleaner and more efficient over the last fifty years, so too has mining. The decision today by the Court of Appeals is disappointing, but hopefully PolyMet continues the process and brings environmentally responsible copper-nickel mining to Minnesota.