Can You Dig It? The Battle over the PolyMet Mine

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Environmentalists, mining advocates, and politicians have been battling over the permitting of the PolyMet mine in Minnesota’s Iron Range for north of a decade. The process has been extremely controversial and convoluted and a number of permits have been granted, then suspended, and now remain in limbo. In this paper, I apply the steps of the Institutional Analysis and Development framework in order to explain the factors that have governed this process. I begin by explaining the background of the region and its relevance to the case at hand, including the history of the Range’s declining mining economy, the health risks the mine poses, and a landmark case of environmental activism. I then establish the conditions near the site of the mine, the attributes of the community (with special attention to valuations based on historical memory and environmental imaginaries), and the network of rules-in-use. Next, I explore the long timeline of disputes over the mine, explaining how rules have been applied, shifted, or circumvented, how participants strategize, and what the situation looks like at the time of writing. Finally, I conclude by exploring how different participants may evaluate the mine’s status as it stands and lays out what a best-case scenario might look like.



mining, history, Minnesota, policy