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Inside Sen. Amy Klobuchar's Mining Industry Support In Northeast Minnesota

In this photo taken Feb. 10, 2016, the closed LTV Steel taconite plant is abandoned near Hoyt Lakes, Minn. The prospect remains of returning the site to life as part of Minnesota's first copper-nickel mine owned by PolyMet. (Jim Mone/AP)
In this photo taken Feb. 10, 2016, the closed LTV Steel taconite plant is abandoned near Hoyt Lakes, Minn. The prospect remains of returning the site to life as part of Minnesota's first copper-nickel mine owned by PolyMet. (Jim Mone/AP)

We spent part of Tuesday's On Point broadcast talking about Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar's record in Minnesota. It was an effort to illuminate Klobuchar's 2020 presidential run by examining her actual record in her home state.

In the show, I read a Facebook comment from listener Tess Dornfeld. Tess asked the guests to address "Klobuchar's actions in northeastern Minnesota." The portion I read did not mention what specific actions Tess was referring to, so the guests could only offer speculative responses.

However, Tess's comment did contain additional context. She wanted to know specifically Klobuchar's about "support of sulfide mining, against the interests of the majority of her constituents, the local economy, clean water, and tribal sovereignty."

We should have read that portion of the comment, too. Not doing so made things confusing, and we missed an opportunity to add important information to the program. We apologize.

What's Happening In Minnesota

So, with that in mind, here’s more context — on what’s actually one of the most contentious issues in Minnesota politics right now, according to our guest from Tuesday’s show, David Schultz, professor of political science and law at Hamline University.

"Amy Klobuchar has weighed in on the side, in some cases, of some of the mining companies, taking action trying to urge federal agencies to support environmental permits to be able to allow for the mining," Schultz told On Point.

The most controversial is a $1 billion, 19,000-acre mine currently under development in northeast Minnesota. The PolyMet mine would be Minnesota’s first copper-nickel mine. The company says it would bring jobs to the economically depressed region. Environmental groups say that the mine will pollute critical waterways, including Lake Superior.

Last year, Sen. Klobuchar co-sponsored an amendment tucked into a defense spending bill that would have finalized a land swap between the U.S. Forest Service and PolyMet Mining. It would have also effectively ended lawsuits seeking to stop the exchange. The amendment was removed in conference committee.

"Many people accuse the supporting of the mining interest as a sellout to corporate interests, others argue it’s a reasonable compromise between jobs and the environment," Schultz said. "But at least in this situation here, Klobuchar has taken action as a senator to try to bring about mining and support mining in the Iron Range area of the state."

State and federal regulators have approved most of the PolyMet’s required water and air permits. As of late last year, one wetlands permit from the Army Corps of Engineers remains. Construction could begin this spring.

But, just Tuesday, environmental groups filed a new lawsuit against the EPA, saying the agency did not publicly disclose concerns it may have about the mine.

Related:

Meghna Chakrabarti Twitter Host, On Point
Meghna Chakrabarti is the host of On Point.

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