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'Up North' Isn't There Just for Your Pleasure

Mining plan allows both economic and environmental stewardship.

In a recent commentary ("Minnesotans face a decision about mining," Jan. 22), Betsy Daub of Friends of the Boundary Waters suggested that the movie "Avatar" was being played out in the narrative of new mining operations proposed for northeastern Minnesota.

But Daub had in mind the wrong part of the narrative from that movie. It is Avatar's portrayal of a "White Messiah," swooping in to save the natives of a faraway place from the impact of mining, that she, herself, seemingly seeks to play out. Unfortunately for her, the natives don't want or need a messiah.

Daub's warning about a nonferrous mining operation near Hoyt Lakes proposed by PolyMet Mining Co. is outlandish and based in unreality -- not unlike her movie exemplar.

Daub states almost explicitly that northeastern Minnesota constitutes nothing more than a playground for her and her Twin Cities friends, ignoring the fact that people who live up north are the ones best educated and equipped to ensure the sustainability and conservation of the resources that she and her supporters want to experience, albeit only while on vacation.

Baffin-Island-scenicAs a native of Silver Bay, a former resident of the Gunflint Trail, a current Babbitt-area wetland and timberland owner, and a hard-core conservationist, I am, like my neighbors, enthusiastic about the prospect for this new generation of mining operation coming to the area - - because I know the facts.

• Fact: PolyMet's proposed mine -- near Hoyt Lakes -- is in a completely different watershed than the BWCA, and nowhere near "Hwy. 1, the scenic entryway into Ely and the wilderness beyond," as Daub claims. Daub suggests that the BWCA could be affected, and this is completely false.

• Fact: If any other mining company ever wanted to begin operation anywhere else up north, it would have to go through its own environmental review process. Daub suggests that permitting PolyMet to mine would automatically lead to mining next to the BWCA, which is false.

Hoyt_Lake1• Fact: PolyMet's operation in Minnesota will be so environmentally and technologically cutting-edge that it will be a model for the world -- far from the outdated gloom-and-doom image painted by Friends of the Boundary Waters. The state and federal governments' environmental requirements for this mine will be unprecedented. In fact, this mine might even have a positive effect on the global environment. Indeed, the entire human race would benefit from PolyMet's operation being established instead of a mine in some other, less environmentally conscientious country.

• Fact: PolyMet will provide a domestic supply of metals that Americans use every day -- nickel, copper, gold, platinum and palladium -- in cell phones, computers, catalytic converters, electric cars, wind turbines and medical devices. The global environmental and domestic economic impact of producing these critical metals here, and having to import less from elsewhere, will be very positive.

Hoyt_Lake2• Fact: PolyMet's operation will create 400 well-paying jobs directly, and there will be hundreds of spinoff jobs. This will add an estimated $240 million to the local economy and to the state's tax base. The University of Minnesota Duluth has produced excellent analyses.

• Fact: Our state's leading policymakers, including U.S. Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken, U.S. Rep. James Oberstar and Gov. Tim Pawlenty support this new generation of mining in Minnesota.

• • •
The establishment of a modern and environmentally friendly mine in our state would be the epitome of good stewardship envisioned by our nation's great progressive conservationist forebears, like Teddy Roosevelt, who fought for the establishment of the national forest system for just such wise-use applications as this. Daub and Friends of the Boundary Waters should leave their "Avatar" fantasy world and join us common-sense conservationists in reality.

Kent Kaiser is a professor at Northwestern College in Roseville and a senior fellow at Center of the American Experiment.

This commentary originally appeared in the Star Tribune on January 26, 2010.
Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted.
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