So here we are again. Environmental groups are set to file lawsuits against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and U.S. Forest under the disguise of the Endangered Species Act in a blind attempt to block PolyMet from moving forward with its NorthMet open pit copper-nickel mine. Meanwhile, the future of Iron Range communities hang in the balance of the project’s ultimate success.
Copper-nickel mining opponents — PolyMet opponents specifically in this case — insist the project can harm the St. Louis River/Lake Superior watershed. They say it will pollute the water and impact downstream communities and claim Monday’s land exchange between the company and Forest Service is against public interest for economical and environmental reasons. But all those concerns were put through a rigorous environmental review — nearly 10 years of it — culminating in the approval of PolyMet’s Environmental Impact Statement, which the groups then claimed stemmed from flawed science filtered from the company.
If the argument sounds familiar, reverse sides and look no further than the national debate over climate change.
On Tuesday, in the latest attempt to block PolyMet, the Center for Biological Diversity and Earthworks filed their intent to sue the federal agencies because the project would threaten the natural habitat for the gray wolf and Canada lynx. While both species are considered threats for extinction under the Endangered Species Act, it’s an issue rarely mentioned throughout the years of review PolyMet has gone through.
It comes as no surprise. With Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton among those in its corner, PolyMet has passed the tests and red tape with flying colors so far, leaving the anti-mining crowd without a powerful slugger in its corner. Draft permits for the project could be issued later this year for NorthMet, representing fewer options to beat back the project, which will bring in 300 desperately-needed jobs and inject more than $550 million annually into the struggling East Range economy.
It feels like the anti-copper-nickel crowd is grasping at straws, but they are also ignoring the opinion of the very administration they praised weeks ago for quashing Twin Metals’ leases and establishing new monuments elsewhere around the nation. In that case, the Obama Administration’s actions were premature and a threat to the process the government has continually followed. It is the same process PolyMet was actually allowed to go through up to this point and proceed on the merits of the project’s ability to create jobs without harming the environment.
In perhaps the biggest slap in the face to the Iron Range, copper-nickel opponents are turning PolyMet and Twin Metals into a political pedestal issue. The Center for Biological Diversity is based in Arizona and Earthworks in Washington, D.C. It is strictly a political issue for outside and special interest groups to meddle in, without any real knowledge of the factors behind the Range’s support for NorthMet. For us, the issue is about jobs and reviving the East Range, preventing further exodus of businesses and people, and providing a stable future for those cities — all while preserving and protecting the environment we use every day.
It’s an easy fight to continue, and one the Range won’t stop.
Desperate times call for desperate measures. Outside environmental groups and those locally are eager to drag PolyMet and the East Range through the mud using an approach that throws everything at the wall — even lawsuits against the very administration and agencies it championed weeks ago.
So far, the only thing sticking is the NorthMet project.