US Senate chamber at capitol building

Sierra club president calls for opposition to Sen. Smith's PolyMet plan

Amendment would open the door for controversial Iron Range land swap

June 09, 2018 - 7:29 am

   MINNEAPOLIS (AP) - Sen. Tina Smith has proposed an amendment to force completion of a land swap needed for the proposed PolyMet copper-nickel mine on Minnesota's Iron Range.

The Minnesota Democrat plans to offer the amendment to a major defense policy bill that's expected to come up in the Senate soon. Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota is a co-sponsor.

The language is similar to a bill that passed the House last November. The legislation would circumvent four lawsuits pending in federal court to block the land exchange.

The Sierra Club's national executive director, Michael Brune, urged top Senate leaders Friday to oppose Smith's amendment. He calls the land exchange a "sweetheart deal" that should not be fast-tracked.

Paula Maccabee, an attorney for WaterLegacy, calls it a "backroom effort" to circumvent the courts.

“It’s so un-Minnesotan. This is not the way our great state usually works. We tend to be transparent. We tend to care about due process. We care about the environment,” Maccabee said.

Here is an emailed response to The Associated Press from Sen. Smith’s office:

“Sen. Smith is working to help get the land exchange done_which was approved and advocated for by the Obama Administration_and it would in no way undermine the environmental review process for the proposed mine itself. When it comes to PolyMet, the most important issue is that the project meets strict environmental requirements.”

Opponents of both PolyMet and a separate project called Twin Metals near Ely say they pose high environmental risks to pristine waters.

Supporters of both projects say the mines can operate without harming the environment while providing hundreds of badly needed jobs on the Iron Range.