Parsing Public Opinion Of Polymet Mine Proposal

PolyMet facilities (Photo courtesy PolyMet Mining)
PolyMet facilities (Photo courtesy PolyMet Mining)

Two markers of the public’s feelings about the PolyMet copper-nickel mine proposal made the news this week. Anti-mine groups touted overwhelming opposition in public comments, and a newspaper poll showed a slight drop in support from earlier this year.

An analysis of the record-breaking number of comments submitted on PolyMet’s draft Environmental Impact Statement last winter by the Mining Truth coalition found that nearly all raised concerns about the project.

“In all, 52,887 people and organizations took time to submit comments on the proposal, which broke the previous state record for comments by nearly 50,000,” Mining Truth said in a statement. “An analysis of all of the submitted comments conducted by Mining Truth, found that 51,970 (98.2 percent) of the comments raised concerns about the proposal as currently written.  There were 883 (1.6 percent) comments supporting the project, and another 84 (0.2 percent) where the author’s position was not clear.”

Minnesota Department of Natural Resources commissioner Tom Landwehr told the Pioneer Press that his agency is “still reviewing the comments — which he said total more than 58,000 — and likely will be doing so for several more weeks.”

Meanwhile, a statewide poll conducted by the Star Tribune found that support for the project had dropped six percentage points from February, and opposition had increased by two points.

The paper reported that people who said they support the mine proposal decreased from 46 to 40 percent, while people who oppose it increased from 21 to 23 percent. In northern Minnesota, a majority still approve of the mine, but support had dropped 17 points from 69 percent last winter to 52 percent now.

The previous poll was conducted during the public review of PolyMet’s draft EIS. Bruce Richardson, PolyMet’s Vice President of Corporate Communications and External Affairs, told the Star Tribune that “the poll results are consistent with the company’s research that shows residents are willing to let environmental regulators manage the decision.”

In a Facebook post, Mining Truth said the results showed, “As Minnesotans learn more about what is at stake, their concerns continue to increase.”

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