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Minnesotans must demand answers to key questions about PolyMet

There has not been a single legislative hearing or any commitment from Gov. Tim Walz, House Speaker Melissa Hortman or Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka that they will investigate the numerous red flags surrounding PolyMet. Why?

PolyMet
PolyMet building
MinnPost photo by Walker Orenstein

Children are born with a natural sense of curiosity. They do not just accept what they are told. They ask, “Why?” On the issue of PolyMet, potentially the first copper-sulfide mine in Minnesota’s history, it is time we follow the example of our kids by searching for real answers instead of simply going along with “because I said so.”

Former Gov. Arne Carlson
MinnPost file photo by James Nord
Former Gov. Arne Carlson
Let us start with what we know.

We know that the process used to grant PolyMet’s permits was highly suspect, with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency suppressing the alarming concerns of an EPA scientist who declared that the PolyMet wastewater permit violated the Clean Water Act.

We know that PolyMet will produce a 900-acre lake of toxic wastewater to be held in place for centuries by a tailings dam nearly as tall as the Statue of Liberty. In January, a dam in Brazil of similar design collapsed, killing 250 people. PolyMet and the Brazil mine used the same dam consultant.

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We know that PolyMet, the Canadian company ostensibly responsible for cleaning up the inevitable acid mine waste that comes with copper-sulfide mining, has no revenue, no discernible assets, and is only a shell company for Glencore, which owns over 70% of PolyMet’s stock.

Richard Painter
Richard Painter
We also know that Glencore, a notorious Swiss company founded by Marc Rich, an international fugitive who fled the United States to escape prosecution, now has as its chairman Tony Hayward, who led British Petroleum during the Deepwater Horizon oil catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico. Vladimir Putin awarded Russia’s Order of Friendship to Glencore’s CEO following Glencore’s suspicious business dealings with a Russian state oil company. Glencore is now under investigation by British and U.S. authorities for illegal business practices.

Further, Glencore is not a signatory to PolyMet’s permit to mine with the State of Minnesota, meaning that Glencore can spend the first few years of the mine’s operations gobbling all the profits, then once the mine inevitably pollutes, it can simply have PolyMet declare bankruptcy and leave Minnesota taxpayers on the hook for environmental cleanup costs that could exceed $6 billion. This is the amount that Vale, the company responsible for the Brazilian disaster, has set aside to cover its costs.

Finally, we know that, despite calls from Minnesota’s medical professionals, there has been no health-impact study into the potential risks to all people in northeastern Minnesota from acid mine pollution in their drinking water.

Chris Knopf
Chris Knopf
In spite of all this, there has not been a single legislative hearing or any commitment from Gov. Tim Walz, House Speaker Melissa Hortman or Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka that they will investigate the numerous red flags surrounding PolyMet.

So, like our children, we ask, “Why?”

One reason may be the close ties between Walz and PolyMet. The governor’s two top advisers – his chief of staff and deputy chief of staff — worked for the law firm that represents PolyMet. Indeed, Walz’s deputy chief of staff was one of PolyMet’s top outside lawyers and did not leave that post until days before joining the Walz administration.

This apparent conflict of interest may or may not impact the governor’s thinking, but how would we know? The governor has repeatedly refused to meet with citizens and nonprofit organizations regarding these issues, nor has he been willing to answer any questions relating to PolyMet.

It is imperative that we, the people, and the media not only ask the following questions, but forcefully demand answers because it will be ordinary citizens who suffer the damage and pay the bill for PolyMet’s pollution. We can rest assured that our public officials who are now silent will express surprise and point the finger of blame elsewhere.

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  • Since these are the most important and far-reaching environmental permits in Minnesota’s history, why are our leaders refusing to hold public legislative hearings into PolyMet?
  • Why have the governor and attorney general refused to investigate the corruption at the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency?
  • Under the best circumstances, mercury, arsenic and other dangerous chemicals will leach from PolyMet into the waters of Lake Superior that provide drinking water to tribes and the people of Duluth. Why has the governor refused to perform a health study into these effects as was requested by the medical community?
  • If the PolyMet dam collapses as the dam did in Brazil, how will the governor and Legislature cover the anticipated $6 billion cleanup costs? We know that PolyMet has no financial assets, so what taxes will be raised and what programs will be cut?

Arne Carlson is a former governor of Minnesota (1991-99); Richard Painter is the S. Walter Richey Professor of Corporate Law at the University of Minnesota Law School; Chris Knopf is an attorney and executive director of Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness.

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