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Letter to the editor: Metsa backs Nolan on mine permitting process

For over 130 years, mining has been a part of our work, wealth, and cultural history in Minnesota. Like farming, mining has driven the Minnesota economy from our earliest times and continues to be the backbone of our state. I'm proud to represent our mining region. But I was disappointed in my friends at the Lake County DFL for criticizing our Congressman, Rick Nolan, for supporting the National Strategic and Critical Minerals Production Act, HR 761. This act will encourage even greater investment and opportunity in Minnesota's mining sector and the related industries it supports in our communities.

 As a state representative, I hear from a lot of people about government. Folks are reasonable; they just want a government that advances economic opportunity, promotes fairness, and takes care of our national needs in a timely fashion. What folks hate, I'm afraid, is a bureaucracy that is unreasonable and takes years to make decisions. The Strategic and Critical Minerals Act takes this issue head on and ensures a timelier, better-coordinated federal permitting process while maintaining a strict regard to all environmental standards.

How do Minnesotans see mining? A majority of the state's voters favor expanded mining, and 83 percent support mining on the Iron Range, according to a recent survey by the Global Strategy Group. Sure, mining has challenges, but so does farming--with serious erosion, pesticide, and food safety issues. So, do we stop farming because of its challenges? No, we work together to meet these challenges and create the world's best food supply. We need to do the same with mining. There is no question that the world's safest and most environmentally friendly mines are in the good old USA. Let's work together to continue this record while our people continue to demand the tools and gadgets that these minerals supply, from the copper used in windmills to the precious metals used in electronics to the steel used in the new Vikings stadium.

While Minnesotans respect the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources' ability to oversee new mining projects on state-owned lands, the same cannot be said of their federal counterparts. Due to a duplicative and underperforming federal permitting system for minerals mining -- plagued by unnecessary delays and redundancies at the local, state and federal levels -- mineral-rich communities across Minnesota and the nation are failing to attract investment and missing out on job growth. Just look at the unemployment rates across the Iron Range in places like Itasca (6.7 percent), Koochiching (7.2 percent) and St. Louis (6.1 percent), counties that, despite ample resources, report above-average unemployment numbers.

The regulatory nightmare surrounding mine permitting means a decade can pass before companies receive approval to mine for minerals in the United States. Because of this, domestic production lags and U.S. companies are forced to import the majority of their mineral needs, leaving them completely import reliant for 18 mineral commodities in a tight global supply market. I don't think you would believe that environmental regulations in Africa protect the environment like they do in the USA. But it is easy to look the other way, continue to import precious metals, use them in our economy, and oppose mining in the US. In the modern economy, we can't afford to be hypocrites.

Thankfully, some of our representatives in Washington are standing tall to address these issues. A group of 17 bipartisan Senators, including Sens. Klobuchar and Franken, recently introduced The Critical Minerals Policy Act of 2013. The senate legislation stands to facilitate more streamlined permitting and increased development of Minnesota -- and the nation's -- robust mineral resources. The bill's goal, like the one Rep. Nolan supported, is to provide some predictably and transparency in an opaque, inefficient process and to serve as an impetus for the agencies involved with permitting to improve the process.

Contrary to the local DFL party's claims, this bill would not in any way minimize or hinder the environmental review that is an important part of the permitting process. To the contrary, the legislation encourages better interaction and coordination when multiple agencies, such as the Bureau of Land Management and the Environmental Protection Agency, are involved in permitting. H.R. 761 does not alter or diminish the requirements of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR), the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Forest Service, nor Bureau of Land Management from completing thorough environmental reviews, but rather encourages agencies to work together.

H.R. 761 stands to safely improve timely and environmentally sound access to Minnesota's natural resources. If passed through the Senate, opportunities like the Polymet Project and the Twin Metals project will be able to deliver on the promise of new jobs, much-needed investment and more secure supply chains for Minnesotans and the industries they rely on. We should applaud Rep. Nolan for his support and willingness to work across party lines to ensure Minnesota's current and future success.