Key PolyMet environmental report expected Thursday

PolyMet's proposed mine

Polymet’s projection of its mine by Year 11 of operation. IMAGE: Polymet

On Thursday, March 3, state regulators will issue its ruling on the Environmental Impact Statement for the proposed PolyMet copper-nickel mine near Hoyt Lakes. This will be the culmination of at least seven years of debate over the EIS. The controversy centers on whether the development company is accurately reflecting the environmental risk of this form of mining.

As the Star Tribune reported last night, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Tom Landwehr has said he believes PolyMet’s environmental review will be deemed adequate, unless something unusual transpired in the long review process. The document issued tomorrow, a complex array of predictions and contingencies, will likely exceed 3,500 pages. Like everything else involved with copper-nickel mining, it will be subject to a wide variety of interpretations.

Acceptance of the EIS, however, does not mean we’re anywhere close to shovels in the ground. Next would come the actual permitting process. That proceeding uses the data from the EIS to officially determine whether the project should be allowed to begin. Gov. Mark Dayton will have a heavy influence on this part of the process. He has said he knows it will be one of the most important decisions he makes during his time in office and he’ll likely deliberate very seriously.

Even if he authorizes permits, environmental groups and Ojibwa bands are likely to challenge those permits in court. They’ll have a compelling case based on native treaty rights, certainly enough of an argument to delay this process potentially for years.

Finally, the project must actually attract the necessary investment to actually mine the ores. This, in the end, may prove the most fateful part of the entire question. Like Minnesota’s iron ore, these other nonferrous minerals will be more costly to mine here than elsewhere. Profitable mining would require much higher prices and demand that we have seen lately.

Northeastern Minnesota has seen heavy iron mining activity for more than 120 years. Initially, iron supplies were so pure that little processing was needed to turn the rich Minnesota ore into steel. Later, the taconite process added more processing to turn lower quality ore into steel. Now, the mining copper-nickel (and other minerals) will require even more processing than iron ore. There is a greater risk of sulfide water pollution due to the kinds of rocks being broken to access the ore. The proposed PolyMet mine, along with other proposed nonferrous mines, will require water treatment for hundreds of years, according to company estimates.

Many on the Iron Range see the project as the best hope for new jobs for a region reeling from the economic impact of increased automation and decreased demand for taconite. Job estimates vary widely, depending on whether you count the construction impact and how many people you believe will be needed to operate these mines in the future.


  1. Pass it already! Forget the natives,they have casinos to worry about.

  2. I’ve always thought it was shortsighted to permanently destroy an environment to create a few short term ( even if short term is ten or fifteen years) jobs. We need to find jobs that are sustainable and do not destroy the very reason we live here!

  3. Donald Whipple Fox says

    As a Native American (Dakota), I doubt that the short-term economic benefits to the Iron Range can justify the high environmental costs for the area and for the whole of Mni’sota. I worry for those who are economically struggling on the Iron Range. Much more needs to be done to assist these neighbors in finding new ways of survival. And although some people would like to “forget the natives,” you will never be allowed to forget us.

  4. Liane Gale says

    NE Minnesota should explore alternative ways to bring money to people, besides having to rely on new mining jobs that destroy the environment and most likely pollute the most precious substance of all – water. Minnesota should start looking north to Canada, where local and regional governments have started to embrace the concept of a Basic Income to address poverty, and based on the the fact that today’s job market is no longer adequate to provide most people with a livelihood. Ontario just announced in its 2016 budget a Basic Income pilot “The pilot project will test a growing view at home and abroad that a basic income could build on the success of minimum wage policies and increases in child benefits by providing more consistent and predictable support in the context of today’s dynamic labour market.” More info here:

  5. Ranger47 says

    Much easier, and fairer, to simply ask people to move to where the jobs are. Why should we have to pay for people to sit on their butts, do nothing, when jobs abound elsewhere? Crazy..

  6. Marco Good says

    The state government, “Democratic” and Repugnant and its so-called conservation and environmental regulation agencies are obviously bought and paid for by multinational conglomerates. We the People will resist and obstruct the ruthless, murderous mining “industry” and their coercive exploitation and ruination of our water, land and air, game, fish and Manoomin by any means necessary, at every turn. There will be no Mt. Polley or Animus River sulfide mining disaster in Minnesota if we can help it. We can and we must STOP POLYMET!

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