It’s been a long, tough road, but the U.S. Forest Service has finally agreed to the land exchange necessary for PolyMet’s NorthMet mining project to proceed, and as a result, hundreds if not thousands of good paying new Iron Range jobs are one giant step closer to becoming reality.

I’m especially proud of the leading role our Congressional office played in advancing the Forest Service’s decision. Over the past two years, we’ve brought multiple state and federal agencies — the U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, U.S Fish and Wildlife Service, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and Minnesota Pollution Control Agency — together for regular meetings to advance all their respective approvals required in the process; a process that has been in slow motion for more than a decade, at a cost of some $200 million.

Until we got involved, no one person or agency was in charge and everybody was frustrated by multiple delays and miscommunications.

In particular, I want to thank outgoing U.S. Department of Agriculture Under Secretary Robert Bonnie, Regional Forester Kathleen Atkinson, and Superior National Forest Supervisor Connie Cummins and the heads of all other agencies involved for helping us clear the logjam related to the land exchange and keep things moving forward.

Now, we expect the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to issue its final approval under the Clean Water Act. Once that happens, all of the federal review components will be in place.

All that will remain is the completion by the State of Minnesota of the required financial and environmental guarantees.

Then PolyMet will launch a new era in 21st Century mining, opening up vast copper-nickel deposits under the enormous tract of land known as the Duluth Complex.

As important as PolyMet and those hundreds of good paying new jobs are to our region, it’s important to remember that this project is critical to our national economy and national security.

Our Nation needs the copper, nickel and other precious minerals within the Duluth Complex to meet our needs in defense, manufacturing, high technology, health care, medical research and the environmental “green” industries necessary to achieve energy independence and combat climate change – all of which create good-paying American jobs.

Yet despite the rich deposits we have right here in our own backyard, we are still importing 35% of all the copper used in America, and almost 100 percent of the nickel – most of which is being mined in countries with nowhere near the wage, health, environmental or safety standards required here in the United States.

We know how to do mining and we know how to do it right — and become a global model for other countries to emulate.

In fact, the U.S. Geological Survey reports that the U.S. is 100 percent dependent on foreign suppliers for 17 critically important minerals –—and more than 50 percent dependent on foreign sources for at least 24 others.

It’s also important to recognize that the land exchange is a good deal for both the taxpayers and PolyMet.

By law, the monetary values of the lands are basically the same. The 6,690 acres of private land PolyMet will cede to the U.S. Forest Service include access to trails and recreation, abundant timber resources, a huge tract of wild rice water at Hay Lake and almost 2,000 acres of wetlands.

The 6,650 acres of contiguous land PolyMet will receive in the Superior National Forest is already mining friendly, surrounded by existing mining operations.

Now that the land exchange has been approved, I’m confident we’re on the way to wrapping things up so the PolyMet-NorthMet project can be permitted and operational. A

nd in doing so, we will establish a global standard for advanced mining technology and environmental stewardship worthy of our workers, our region and our great Nation.

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