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Nolan Crosses Party Lines as House Passes Mining Bill

Updated: 09/18/2013 10:56 PM
Created: 09/18/2013 4:57 PM WDIO.com

The Republican-controlled House has approved a bill to speed up government review of gold, copper, silver and uranium mining on federal land.

In the Northland, Congressman Rick Nolan's supportive vote has some people upset.

"We're disappointed," John Doberstein, a volunteer with the Sierra Club, said. "Call me a hopeless romantic, but I had faith Rick Nolan, our Congressman, would take the lead."

Doberstein was one of about two dozen people who gathered Wednesday in Lincoln Park to speak out against the bill.

"To fast track a certain type of mining that's never been done safely anywhere in the world in order to appease the mining industry, it's ridiculous," Doberstein said.

The bill, approved 246-178, makes it harder for opponents to mount legal challenges against new ventures and sets a 30-month timeline for environmental reviews.

It's those timely deadlines that Nolan said he supports. He shared the following statement.

"Even though this is not the bill I would have written, I voted YES on H.R. 761 because we need to streamline and standardize a broken mining permitting process that is delaying projects with the potential for thousands of good paying jobs, and billions of dollars in economic development, across Minnesota's Iron Range."

Mineral mining supporters were thankful for the representation.

"We think it's an important step for mineral development and the message it sends to investors," Executive Director of Mining Minnesota Frank Ongaro said.

Ongaro said mineral mining projects will still need to be environmentally sound under the bill.

"There are multiple steps of environmental review at both the state and federal level, layers upon layers," Ongaro said. "Every company will be thoroughly vetted, and the project thoroughly vetted, before they ever receive a permit to mine."

Some Minnesotans are not convinced the environmental protection will stick.

"In a water-rich landscape like we have in northern Minnesota, the last thing we should be doing is inviting an industry in and saying rather than meet our standards, we'll jut lower our standards so you can come in here," Ian Kimmer, with Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness, said.

Nolan did support four amendments that would have added environmental provisions to the bill. They were defeated by the House.

Supporters said the bill would help create jobs by cutting back waiting periods for new "hardrock" mining projects that can stretch up to 10 years. The bill would give U.S. officials discretion to waive federal environmental reviews and accept state reviews instead. It also sets a 60-day limit to file legal challenges.

The Obama administration said it would "undermine and remove" important environmental safeguards. The bill is expected to die in the Democratic-run Senate.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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