No, actually, the PolyMet project is a go | Opinion

May 14, 2021 8:00 am

An old production truck on display at the Hull Rust Mine View. Photo by Christina Hiatt Brown.

This guest commentary is a response to a Reformer commentary that was published in the wake of the state Supreme Court’s recent PolyMet ruling. You can read that commentary here.  

Two weeks ago, the Minnesota Supreme Court made a ruling on the PolyMet project. The court ruled that the Department of Natural Resources properly addressed concerns about the tailings dam, rejected opponents’ argument that a contested case hearing is needed on a big list of issues, and said a lower court erred when it reversed two dam safety permits. The court also said a contested case hearing, which is a trial-like proceeding, is needed on the effectiveness of a certain kind of clay, bentonite, and its effectiveness to prevent pollution. Finally, it said the DNR must put a definite term on the permit to mine after the contested case is complete.

Given this, several of us in the construction trades were surprised and confused to see PolyMet’s opponents saying that PolyMet completely lost the case and has to start all over. A contested case hearing on the effectiveness of bentonite clay isn’t a “reset” for this project. When you look at the court order, this wasn’t a loss or even a tie; it was a win for those of us who believe we can protect the environment and build our state’s economy. Maybe we should be clearer about defining win, lose and tie.

Sometimes in sports there are ties, like in hockey. When a game ends in a tie, it goes to a shoot-out and it’s anyone’s game to win. Let me be clear, this court ruling was not a tie and that is not where we are in the process at all.

It’s not uncommon in the legal and political world for advocates to spin court decisions as a win. Their donors and supporters are counting on organizations to put up a fight against the project. Similarly, we are counting on the judicial branch of government to rise above this back-and-forth style of policymaking. The court’s recent decision sets us on a road to moving forward, and we cannot get there soon enough.

The project will go through the contested case process, a term will be added to the permit and then it will be time for construction. Not only do we need the good jobs this project will provide, but we also need the copper and nickel from the mine to build a greener economy — two points PolyMet’s opponents always avoid. 

Facts: We don’t have enough copper and nickel to support the green revolution that’s the way of the future, and a lot of what we do have is coming from places that don’t protect the environment or workers as well as we do here in Minnesota.

The opponents want you to think this a close hockey game, and with a change in momentum, they can win in a shoot-out. A better analogy is that the game is almost over, and they are willing to do anything to stop the clock from running out and for a final decision to be rendered. They will drive the Zamboni machine around and around the rink, they will try to keep the referees from dropping the puck, or they may even be willing to knock down the boards and storm the ice.

We remain confident in the outcome of the legal proceedings and look forward to getting shovels in the ground soon.

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Adam Duininck
Adam Duininck

Adam Duininck is head of government affairs for the carpenters union and former chair of the Metropolitan Council.