by Laura Humes
This week PolyMet Mining Corporation released a revised version of its Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the proposed NorthMet copper and nickel mine near Hoyt Lakes which kicks off a 90 day comment period. The original EIS was rejected by the Environmental Protection Agency in 2010 after they found over two-dozen inadequacies with the document, which failed to address concerns about toxic water pollution waste products created during the sulfide mining process, among other deficiencies.
Since its first Environmental Impact Statement was released, PolyMet has named a new CEO, John Cherry, and scaled up its lobbying efforts, hiring former Minnesota Pollution Control Agency commissioner Brad Moore to work with state and Federal regulators to advance PolyMet’s proposed sulfide mine.
PolyMet has been gearing up for the release of a supplemental draft EIS, which was made public on Dec. 6. This new draft is another step towards the finalized EIS, which is expected to be completed in mid-2014. If the final EIS is approved by the Environmental Protection Agency, PolyMet could be issued a permit to begin building NorthMet mine as soon as 2015.
Unfortunately, a close reading of the recently released EIS suggests that despite some changes, the PolyMet mine still poses a significant threat to Minnesota’s iconic northern lakes and forests. Water pollution continues to be a pressing concern. In order to keep local watersheds clean and free of sulfide contamination, the mine will require 200 years of water treatment and the processing plant will require 500 years of water treatment at minimum.
This kind of large-scale decontamination would last until the 2500s. So far PolyMet has not provided any information as to how they would implement or finance the water treatment project. This led Minnesota State Auditor Rebecca Otto to ask “How do you measure the financial risk from 500 years of treatment” in her opinion editorial in the Star Tribune last month.
According to a study released with the revised EIS, the project would cost an estimated $200 million, with additional yearly maintenance costs of up to $6 million. PolyMet is required to pay an as-of-yet unspecified amount of financial assurance to finance the project, but the rest of the money would come from state funds—straight out of taxpayers’ pockets.
The public now has 90 days to review the 2200 page EIS (if you read a page per hour, every hour for 90 days straight – you wouldn’t be able to finish). In January, public hearings will be held by the Department of Natural Resources in Saint Paul (Jan. 28), Duluth (Jan. 16), and Aurora (Jan. 22). More information about how to comment electronically or by mail can be found here.
Laura Humes is a student at Macalester College with a passion for conservation, sustainability, and community activism.