Rep. Rick Nolan backtracks on support for PolyMet permitting bill

Northern Minnesota is known for its great fishing, so perhaps it’s fitting that tracking 8th District Congressman Rick Nolan’s position on a bill that deregulates the mining industry and fast tracks the permitting process for PolyMet is a bit like watching a fish flopping around on a dock: first he’s against it, then he’s for it and now he once again opposes it, this time promising to vote against the legislation if it “comes anywhere near close to becoming law.”

Nolan made that assurance while addressing the audience at the Climate Change Forum held at the University of Minnesota, Duluth on Nov. 16, 2013.

We reported in September that Nolan stunned many by voting for National Strategic and Critical Minerals Production Act, mining industry-backed legislation that he blasted both Democrat Jeff Anderson and Republican Rep. Chip Cravaack for supporting and promised never to vote for if elected to congress.

Nolan’s sudden reversal of his position that proposed mining projects must meet environmental rules as currently written in order to be permitted and subsequent vote to assist right-wing Republicans in their efforts to deregulate yet another industry was among the issues attendees wanted to discuss with their congressman. But getting answers to their concerns proved difficult and when pressed, Nolan often contradicted himself. For example, he initially claimed HR 761 does not gut environmental protections (contrary to what he asserted on the campaign trail), but simply changes the “regulatory regime” just as was done in the Small Airplane Revitalization Act of 2013 and went on to discuss how Cirrus Aviation benefits from that legislation. But when later questioned if his flip-flop on the issue is a sign that he’s taking support from environmentalists for granted, Nolan finally acknowledged that HR 761 does indeed gut environmental protections, and made this promise:

I assure you if and when that legislation (HR 761) comes to anywhere near close to becoming law as I said then, I will not vote for anything that is going to degrade our environment and that’s my position and it has always been my position and I’m sticking with it.

When asked to clarify Congressman Nolan’s position on HR 761, Communications Director Steve Johnson replied “original statement still stands.”

The reaction of those who gathered in Bohannon Hall on that Saturday afternoon is perhaps best summed up by 32-year-old Jesse Peterson, who characterized Nolan’s responses and actions with respect to HR 761 as “incredibly deceptive and reflecting a willingness to be phony.”