Mining the evidence: Public comments and evidence-based policymaking in the controversial Minnesota PolyMet mining project

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Department of Social Sciences


In policymaking, evidence-based or evidence-informed policymaking are thought to be essential methods for influencing policies and decisions by telling decision-makers “what works, when and why” (Head, 2008). Different types and sources of evidence exist, however, as do the means by which policy-relevant information is communicated to policy-makers. One way for resource project decision-makers to incorporate knowledge into policies is through public comment. But the kinds of knowledge which policy-makers consider to be valuable evidence is not clear a priori, and little is known about whether and how public comment processes collect, weigh, and assess data and opinions of experts and members of the public (Rifkin, 1994). This paper examines the results of a multi-year, multi-agency decision and comment process in the proposed PolyMet NorthMet mine project in northeastern Minnesota to reveal how government agencies involved in the mine approval process analyzed and valued knowledge gained from a very large and extensive public comment process. It finds, among other things, that the agencies involved in this project approval process consistently weighted comments from experts more heavily than those from ordinary lay members of the public and valued comments opposed to the project more highly than those of supporters.

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© 2020 Elsevier Ltd. Publisher’s version of record: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.resourpol.2020.101842

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Resources Policy