MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- Minnesota lawmakers are debating whether the PolyMet Mining Corporation should put up hundreds of millions of dollars for future cleanup costs before the company even mines its first load of ore.
The company is promising hundreds of jobs for people living near Hoyt Lakes and Babbitt in northern Minnesota at the state's first copper-nickel mine.
But critics say it's an environmental disaster waiting to happen.
Critics are pointing to mining operations in other states that went bankrupt or closed, leaving behind massive cleanup costs for taxpayers.
And some lawmakers want to require PolyMet to cover cleanup costs in advance.
"If there are any decisions that are made that do not turn out as intended," said Rep. Jean Wagenius, (D-Minneapolis), "then Minnesotans will have to pay for any mistakes."
Mining companies are showing sharp interest in what appears to be vast deposits of copper, nickel, palladium and gold deep in the ground near the environmentally sensitive Boundary Waters Canoe Area.
PolyMet's own future cleanup cost estimates are hefty. The company calculates it would need $200 million in a special fund just for costs associated with closing down the mine. The company would also need up to $6 million a year after that for long-term water treatment.
But environmental groups say the true cost could be twice that, and the state should be prepared in advance for unforeseen future costs.
"It's very difficult to buy homeowners insurance when your house is burning down," said Scott Strand, the executive director of the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy. "When an accident occurs is not the time to seek additional financial assurance."
But mining industry groups that testifyied at the state House Environment, Natural Resources, and Agricultural Finance Committee called Minnesota's mining regulations among the most rigorous in the nation
"As taxpayers, we should all be glad that Minnesota will not only be protected, but that we will benefit," said Frank Ongaro, the executive director of the industry group Mining Minnesota.
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