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Senator withdraws mining environment bill

ST. PAUL -- A senator pushing a bill to increase financial oversight and protect the environment as a new type of mining develops in northern Minnesota abruptly withdrew the measure Wednesday night.

In front of a busload of Iron Rangers who opposed the bill, fearing it would hurt the chance for a new mine, Sen. Jim Carlson pulled the bill from consideration after a Senate committee spent 12 hours discussing the issue this week.

Carlson said that he was unsure whether he had the votes for the bill to proceed.

"I feel good that we had a good hearing," he said. "This was one of the best fact-finding meetings we've had in a long time."

Carlson acknowledged that environmental advocates are disappointed with his decision. But, he added, his bill would have done less to restrict a proposed copper and nickel mine than the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's draft environmental impact statement that some say could not stand up in court.

"This is not going anywhere until those questions are answered," he said.

The committee had spent hours looking into nonferrous mining in two Monday meetings and nearly five hours Wednesday night.

Carlson, DFL-Eagan, pulled the bill just before 10 p.m., after the committee heard discussion of the EPA's draft environmental impact statement and Carlson's bill aimed at firming up the level of financial assurances mining companies must present before they can open a nonferrous mine, such as those that would produce copper and nickel.

"We all need to manage our risk," Carlson said as he began testimony earlier Wednesday night.

PolyMet Mining Corp. officials and other mine supporters say the protections sought under Carlson's bill are duplicative and could delay or kill the project, thus putting hundreds of jobs at risk.

The discussion stems from several proposed plans for nonferrous mining projects in northern Minnesota. Furthest along is PolyMet, which is closing in on permits and approvals necessary for opening the state's first such mine.

Wednesday night's committee meeting came in front of a packed Capitol committee room, with some people forced to listen to the proceedings in other parts of the Capitol. Most in the committee room opposed Carlson's bill and live near where PolyMet and other companies propose mines.

Andrew Tellijohn reports for Forum Communications Co.