A new type of mining is under consideration for Northern Minnesota. Exploration for metals contained in sulfide-bearing rock such as copper, nickel, gold, platinum, and others has begun and one mining company, PolyMet, is hoping to obtain a permit to mine in 2016. However, unlike taconite mining, when the sulfides are exposed to water and air, they produce sulfuric acid. Sulfide mines throughout the U.S. have left terrible contamination of lakes, rivers and groundwater with the acid and heavy metals.
By its own accoutn in the EIS, PolyMet's mine will need active water treatment plants for hundreds of years after it closes, even though it only plans to mine for 20 years. MCEA is concerned about how the mine will prevent metals and sulfides in massive piles of waste rock from turning into sulfuric acid and leaching into nearby waters years, or even decades, from now. THe DNR has yet to force PolyMet to commit to any specifics on a financial assurance package.
On December 21, 2015, the comment period for PolyMet’s Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) closed. MCEA and its partner organizations submitted extensive comments along with eight expert reports outlining concerns about PolyMet’s proposal and the FEIS. You can view these comments and reports below:
Comments on the FEIS
Expert Report of Dave Chambers
Expert Report of Keith Gadway
Expert Report of Paul Glaser
Expert Report of Ann Maest
Expert Report of Mike Malusis
Expert Report of Glenn Miller
Expert Report of Tom Myers
Expert Report of Victoria Stamper
The above comments outline recently-discovered issues while also reiterating concerns that were discussed in MCEA’s March 13, 2014 comments on PolyMet’s Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement (SDEIS) but remain largely unaddressed in the FEIS. These SDEIS comments and associated expert reports can be viewed below:
MCEA's Comments on the SDEIS
Expert Report of Tom Myers, Ph.D.
Expert Report of Paul Glaser, Ph.D.
Expert Report of Mike Malusis, Ph.D.
Expert Report of Glenn Miller, Ph.D.
Expert Report of Dave Chambers, Ph.D.
Expert Report of Ann Maest, Ph.D.
Expert Report of Allan Thometz
Click to read MCEA's comments to the Great Lakes Advisory Board concerning PolyMet
Some of the risks associated with sulfide mining include:
Sulfide mining is a risky proposition. Commonly, states find themselves exchanging perceived short-term economic gains for long-term costs to water quality and the environment. In fact, mining companies are unable to point to a single sulfide mine that has operated and closed safely without polluting nearby waters.
- Acid Mine Drainage - metals are typically embedded with sulfides. Sulfides, while generally harmless underground, can become highly acidic when exposed to air and water at the surface. One study found that, among modern mines in the US that predicted that no acid mine drainage would occur, 89% of those mines did have acid mine drainage during operations or after closure.
- Sulfates - sulfates are harmful to native wild rice, an important economic and cultural resource in Minnesota. Sulfates can also be harmful to aquatic plants. Researchers report that areas exposed to high sulfate levels often turn to monocultures as very few plants are able to survive. Modeling at the PolyMet site shows that water running off the mine features will be hundreds or even thousands of times the safe level for wild rice.
- Mercury - sulfates encourage the absorption of mercury into fish and aquatic plants. According to the Minnesota Department of Health, one in ten newborns on the Northshore of Minnesota already have unsafe levels of mercury in their blood. Mercury is a neurotoxin that can affect fetal development. This is a significant public health issue that Minnesota cannot ignore.
- Other heavy metals - Heavy metals including arsenic, copper, nickel and lead that are toxic to fish and plants and harmful to humans may also be present at a mining site at high levels.
On May 23, 2012, Conservation Minnesota, Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness and Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy launched Mining Truth. Mining Truth serves as a forum for responsible discussion on the economic, environmental, and policy-related aspects of sulfide mining in Minnesota. The Mining Truth Coalition has launched a public education campaign asking Governor Dayton and the regulators to use four common sense questions to evaluate sulfide mining proposals.
The four questions that PolyMet needs to answer include:
- Will Minnesota’s water stay safe and clean?
- Are there strong safeguards in place for when things go wrong?
- Will the company leave the site clean and maintenance free?
- Will Minnesota taxpayers be protected?
PolyMet and the sulfide mining industry said that these were fair questions, and they could meet every one. Visit www.miningtruth.org to find out whether MCEA and its partners believe that PolyMet has adequately answered these questions.
Check out this video about Frank Moe's sled dog crusade from Grand Marais to St Paul with sulfide mining petitions in tow.
On September 2, 2015, the Star Tribune published an article detailing Polymet's questionable water model and the potential for impact on the BWCA. Interested in learning more about the background to the story? Check out the following: Letter to NorthMet EIS Co-lead Agency Project Managers from the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission, Attachment A: Email, Attachment B: 2070 Water Leakage Figure, Attachment C: Email, Figures, and Tables.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency filed comments on the PolyMet supplemental draft environmental impact statement (SDEIS) on August 7, 2013.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency filed comments on the PolyMet draft environmental impact statement on Feb. 18, 2010 and strongly criticized the document.
MCEA filed comments on the PolyMet draft environmental impact statement on Feb. 3, 2010 pointing out flaws and stating that no permits may be issued until the problems are fixed.
Read the exhibits and attachments that go with MCEA's PolyMet draft environmental impact statement comments of Feb. 3, 2010
MCEA sent a letter to Sens. Klobuchar and Franken objecting to their endorsement of the proposed PolyMet mine.
MCEA sent a letter requesting an extension on the comment period for the draft EIS beyond Feb. 3, 2010.
Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness, with financial help from MCEA and other organizations, commissioned a short movie on sulfide mining.
MCEA filed comments on hardrock mining EIS scoping document
Read the Mining Simulation Report (Part II) (Part III). Appendix: I.
MCEA filed comments requesting that MPCA list waters as impaired for high levels of sulfate.