State approves PolyMet environmental review

Word NEWS in Old Typewriter Typebar Letters Isolated on WhiteNever has the word “adequate” been such a hot topic.

Today, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources announced that the final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the proposed PolyMet mine near Hoyt Lakes was adequate.

“The environmental review process is about describing the potential environmental effects of the proposed NorthMet project,” said DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr in a statement. “We are confident this document has thoroughly examined the important environmental topics and has addressed them.”

Those interested in reviewing the EIS and related documents may review them here.

This news means the state may now move forward on the actual permitting process. This won’t take as long as the environmental review, but will still face months of deliberation. Legal injunctions from tribal and environmental officials could delay that process as well.

Like many, I had anticipated the news and wrote a piece explaining what this would all mean yesterday.

Reactions to this afternoon’s news were swift.

Iron Range area chambers of commerce, major backers of new mining projects, quickly offered words of congratulations and celebration. A joint press release from the Laurentian, Hibbing and Grand Rapids chambers said that miners and construction workers were ready to go:

A future of modern and responsible mining on the Range is something that we all look forward to as the next phase of opportunity for those of us who have built our lives here. PolyMet represents that future, and we remain hopeful that it will soon become reality.

Area environmental groups, however, were suitably outraged with this finding. Case in point, a joint release by Northern Minnesota leaders of Save Our Sky Blue Waters, Le Lind, Save Lake Superior Association, Friends of the Cloquet Valley State Forest, and the Wetlands Action Group:

By declaring the proposed PolyMet sulfide mine EIS as adequate, the Minnesota Department of Resources (DNR)  has announced its willingness to poison the waters for all those living downstream in the St. Louis River watershed.

The groups argue that the long review process reflected only best case scenarios from the company’s point of view.

After 10 years of environmental review, water modeling for the proposed PolyMet mine is still questionable.  Instead of addressing public and Tribal concerns regarding significant environmental impact inconsistencies, the DNR has chosen to rush the EIS process to a close and declare a faulty mine proposal as adequate.

The PolyMet EIS has buried the real problems of sulfide mining within a conceptual framework of wishful thinking (no problems will occur), promises (all pollution will be cleaned up or treated), and adaptive management (any unforeseen problem will be immediately reported and fixed), along with computer-generated charts and graphs, much of which is based on faulty modeling.  Despite the massive amount of paperwork, the DNR still doesn’t know whether contaminated ground water would eventually flow into the Lake Superior or Rainy River (Boundary Waters) basins –ultimately polluting both internationally important watersheds.

The permitting process will be more contentious, if only because PolyMet will be allowed to mine if it succeeds in the next phase of development.

But it bears mentioning that PolyMet, as a company, has never mined anything. It’s a development shell built to attract investment from a major international mining firm. That company would be the one to actually do the mining. That is, if the market demand allows.


  1. Question: I’ve been reading the comments of range pols on Polymet for some years now. Not sure I have ever heard one expressing actual interest in making sure an environmental disaster doesn’t ensue. Everything is “sooner” “faster” …. In addition these pols have launched numerous legislative efforts, many successful, to weaken environmental protections not only for mining and processing but statewide. They have made common cause with the Republicans to do this. Could it be the case that some of this is posturing and they aren’t all as irresponsible as they sound? Certainly Saxhaug behaved very unpleasantly when Bob Tammen and I were able to block–for a time–one of his nastier bills. Also wondering, given this history and background, why Minnesotans statewide should support special unemployment treatment for mining industry workers. Given the actual number of real and potential mining jobs–surely a tiny fraction of total Minnesota employment–one could probably make out a good case that the sooner mining dies out, the better off the state will be. (But I am not making that case here, just thinking out loud.) I think people should actually discuss some of this stuff rather than just toss the same worn out slogans back and forth.

    • Independant says

      Question: I’ve been reading the comments of range pols on Polymet for some years now. Not sure I have ever heard one expressing actual interest in making sure an environmental disaster doesn’t ensue. Everything is “sooner” “faster” ….

      10 years is a fast track to you? Wow.

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