MN signs off on PolyMet Mine environmental review

Facilities at the PolyMet NorthMet Project site, in northeastern Minnesota, will be refurbished and upgraded to modern standards. The site includes crushing and milling facilities, electric substations, tailings facilities, maintenance shops, an office building, railroad, and other essential infrastructure. // Photo via PolyMetmining.org

Facilities at the PolyMet NorthMet Project site, in northeastern Minnesota, will be refurbished and upgraded to modern standards. The site includes crushing and milling facilities, electric substations, tailings facilities, maintenance shops, an office building, railroad, and other essential infrastructure. // Photo via PolyMetmining.org

The state signed off today, March 3, on the decade-long environmental review of the first copper- nickel mine proposed for the Iron Range, marking a major turning point in the most contentious environmental fight Minnesota has had in years, reports The Star Tribune.

Next will come what is likely to be a heated debate about how to protect taxpayers from the environmental risks of the mind, as regulators tackle the next phase of the $650 million open pit mining project: permitting and financial assurance.

Tom Landwehr, commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, announced Thursday that the 3,500-page environmental impact statement for the open pit mine near Hoyt Lakes adequately reflects the risks and the protections the mine will require.

Additional environmental analysis and evaluation are still needed, and will start once the company submits its application for permits to mine. Both the U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers must still complete their records of decision, too.

Environmental risks presented by the mine include waste that, when exposed to air and water, could produce an acid that leaches heavy metals and other pollutants from waste rock that could drain into the St. Louis River and Lake Superior. There is also a chance that water could drain north to the nearly pristine watershed that holds the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

PolyMet and state officials have said that it will use modern mining techniques to prevent such disasters, and that the environmental review includes adequate protections. But Indian tribes and environmental groups have argued that they are not enough and that the calculations used to predict future contamination are flawed.

While long expected, the state’s announcement is a significant point in a project that’s been underway since 2006. For Toronto-based PolyMet, the completion of the environmental review is proof to their shareholders that they have taken a huge step forward toward a project that will generate revenue.

[H/T Star Tribune]


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