U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan introduced a bill that could advance PolyMet’s copper-nickel mine in northeastern Minnesota by forcing the land swap need for the project.
The Associated Press reported that PloyMet would get 6,650 acres of federal land in the Superior National Forest in exchange for a similar amount of private land that would be added to the national forest. PolyMet already holds the minerals rights to the land in question but cannot proceed with its mine without also owning the surface rights.
PolyMet welcomed the move by Nolan in a statement, saying the transaction "is not moving forward as quickly as it could be" since the U.S. Forest Service approved the land exchange in January.
Environmental groups spoke out against the bill, saying the deal undervalues the land and cheats taxpayers while threatening pristine areas.
Environmental groups have filed four separate lawsuits to block the land exchange. Two allege the deal undervalues the land at just $550 per acre, while the other two say the deal violates federal laws on land transfers and endangered species. The legislation is aimed at countering those lawsuits.
Nolan, who represents northeastern Minnesota, has been working to remove obstacles to both PolyMet and the proposed Twin Metals mine near Ely, saying the minerals can be mined safely without harming the environment.
Environmental groups have fought both projects because the vast but as-yet untapped reserves of copper, nickel and precious metals under northeastern Minnesota are locked up in sulfide-bearing minerals that can leach sulfuric acid and other pollutants when exposed to air and water.
The bill would require completion of the exchange within 90 days of passage. His co-sponsors include fellow Minnesota Democratic Rep. Collin Peterson, and Minnesota Republican Reps. Tom Emmer and Jason Lewis, as well as some key Republicans on the House Natural Resources Committee. PolyMet said the terms of the deal wouldn't change except that the company would give up a $425,000 payment from the government.
Besides waiting on the land exchange, Polymet is in the process of applying for the state and federal permits it needs.