Rep. Cravaack holds roundtable on PolyMet mining project

Rep. Chip Cravaack of Minnesota's 8th Disctric held a closed-door roundtable discussion on the PolyMet mining project Friday with dozens of parties involved in the project, but few opponents.

Lawmakers and state and federal regulators were among those meeting with Cravaack in Duluth to discuss the controversial copper-nickel mine. Not invited were conservation groups raising concerns about long-term pollution from the mine.

Cravaack said tribal representatives raised the issue in the meeting, and he said all Minnesotans care about the environment.

"We live here. This is our home, and we don't want to have anything that would adversely affect our environment," Cravaack said. "So, in a way, we are all environmentalists."

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Cravaack said the discussion covered Minnesota's rules limiting sulfate levels in wild rice waters; and upcoming federal financial requirements for hard rock mines.

PolyMet's environmental studies suggest the project could have difficulty meeting standards intended to limit sulfates in water with wild rice beds. State Rep. Tom Rukavina, DFL-Virginia, said existing iron mining operations struggle with the sulfate standard.

"Our understanding is all of our taconite plants had issues with that, and any new permitting at Essar Steel, to dewater their mines ... their water in there is well over that standard," Rukavina said. "How is that going to happen? I don't think anyone in the room really answered that question."

Rukavina said he's drafting legislation to raise the permissible level of sulfates in wild rice waters. The MPCA is also reviewing the current sulfate rule.