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Capitol Chatter: Lawmaker on offensive on PolyMet mining issue

Don Davis

Forum News Service

ST. PAUL — Minnesota state Rep. Andrew Falk went on the attack when a PolyMet Mining Corp. official appeared in a House committee.

The normally quiet Murdock Democrat made it clear that he was upset that PolyMet Vice President Brad Moore would not answer questions about the topic of the meeting: whether the company is providing enough financial assurance that any environmental problems would be fixed once the proposed northeastern Minnesota copper-nickel mine closes.

Falk said he is inclined to agree with people who say PolyMet is only a shell company that does not have enough assets to cover remedial environmental costs.

Holding a well-bookmarked PolyMet annual report, Falk asked: “What is the true value of assets?”

Moore responded: “The details of the finances, I do not know.” But he promised to provide answers to any written questions Falk gave him.

That did not set well with Falk: “I was hoping that an executive vice president would know something about the financials.”

Falk said that he looked through the annual report for cash PolyMet has available to put up as assurance there would be enough money for environment work when the mine closes. All he found was less than $10 million, a fraction of what even the company says needs to be available.

Moore refused to give Chairwoman Jean Wagenius, D-Minneapolis, documents supporting PolyMet’s initial estimates of how much may be needed. Those early figures show PolyMet thinks up to $200 million should be set aside when the mine closes and up to $6 million a year for the long term after closure.

During the House Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture Finance Committee meeting, Department of Natural Resources officials said that it is too early to know how much is needed to be set aside to clean up water and other potential environmental issues. They said the process is in an environmental impact study stage, with PolyMet’s post-mine closure financial requirements to be discussed once the company actually applies for a mining permit.

Moore said his company will make suggestions, but state regulators will decide how much money PolyMet must set aside.

The state requires mines to have enough money available to reverse any environmental damage that may remain when a mine closes, either at the end of its natural life or if a mine abruptly closes.

Thompson vs. Seifert

State Sen. Dave Thompson wants fellow Republicans to know that he will abide by their state convention’s decision about who will represent the party in the governor’s race.

Former Rep. Mary Seifert of Marshall edged the Lakeville senator in a precinct caucus straw poll earlier this month, prompting Thompson to release a report emphasizing that Seifert does not plan to abide by convention delegates’ decision, and will take the race to a primary election.

“It is unclear whether or not delegates are aware that Marty Seifert has refused to abide by their endorsement,” senior Thompson advisor Jon Seaton wrote in the report.

For years, Republicans have tended to want their candidates to abide by the convention decision, and those who did not promise to abide have struggled to get GOP activists’ support.

Thompson, Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson and Hibbing teacher Rob Farnsworth have pledged to abide by the convention decision.

Seaton writes that Thompson did better than Seifert in many GOP-heavy counties and that Seifert did worse in this year’s poll than he did in a similar one when he ran for governor four years ago.

Leaders to talk session

Minnesota journalists will quiz the state’s top four legislative leaders at 1 p.m. Wednesday.

Missing from the pre-session legislative briefing will be Gov. Mark Dayton, who is recovering from hip surgery.

Organized by Forum News Service, the briefing is a Capitol tradition as journalists from around the state have a rare opportunity to see those who will make the most important decisions at the same table.

Those who want to look in on the event may visit for a live video stream or go there to watch the archived recording after the briefing concludes.

The legislative session begins Feb. 25 and must end by May 19.

Hubbard joins Dahlberg

Chris Dahlberg’s effort to win the Republican nomination to face Democratic U.S. Sen. Al Franken received a boost when Stanley S. Hubbard, Hubbard Broadcasting chairman and CEO, became his campaign finance chairman.

Stanley already was a supporter of Dahlberg, a St. Louis County commissioner, but agreeing to become finance chairman illustrates a deeper support.

The wealthy broadcasting leader brings a lot of contacts with him to the job.

Dahlberg faces a crowded GOP Senate field, which includes businessman Mike McFadden, who appears willing to spend his own wealth to help him win.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.