A new type of mining is under consideration for Northern Minnesota. Exploration for precious metals such as copper, nickel, gold, platinum, and others has begun and one mining company, PolyMet, has a proposal for a sulfide currently under environmental review. However, unlike taconite mining, the byproduct of this mining is largely sulfides. When sulfides are exposed to water and air, they produce sulfuric acid. Sulfide mines throughout the U.S. have contaminated lakes, rivers, and groundwater with acid and heavy metals. In many cases, bankrupt mining companies have left taxpayers footing the bill for the cleanup.
MCEA is carefully monitoring PolyMet’s proposal for a new sulfide mine near Hoyt Lakes. 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. MCEA is also skeptical that an open pit mine, which is being proposed instead of an underground mine, is necessary. Open-pit mining is prohibited on the desired mining land because surface rights belong to the Superior National Forest. To fix this issue PolyMet proposed a “land swap” where PolyMet would purchase land adjacent to the SNF and exchange it for the land it would like to mine. The Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board (IRRRB) approved a $4 million dollar loan to PolyMet for the project. MCEA and partners argued in District Court that the IRRRB’s action violated state law.
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources’ Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the mine has been released and public comments were taken through February 3, 2010. With its experts, MCEA crafted an extensive response and found numerous problems, including the likely mercury contamination of fish, and a lack of discussion over how PolyMet would monitor water quality after it leaves the site, something that has to occur essentially in perpetuity to avoid contamination of nearby groundwater, lakes, and rivers. The Draft EIS has noted destruction of hundreds of acres of peatlands and wetlands in Superior National Forest, possibly the largest destruction of wetlands associated with a single project in Minnesota history.
On February 18, 2011 the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency filed its comments and rated the Environmental Impact Statement “unacceptable.” As a result, PolyMet is drafting a new a Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement, currently due out in July 2012.
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.
MCEA Comments on the DEIS
Expert Report of Dave Chamber, PhD
Expert Report of Dan Engstrom, PhD
Expert Report of Paul Glaser, PhD
Expert Report of Don Siegel, PhD
Letter to Senator Klobuchar and Senator Franken objecting to their endorsement of the proposed PolyMet Mine
US EPA Comments on DEIS
Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness on sulfide mining
Mining Truth Initiative Launched in Minnesota to Increase Knowledge on Sulfide Mining, A to Z Mining, May 24, 2012
Is Sulfide Mining Right for Minnesota? A Conversation for All Minnesotans, Star Tribune, May 24, 2012
Campaign Against Metals Mining, WDIO Eyewitness News, May 23, 2012
New Statewide Initiative Asks if Sulfide Mining is Right for Minnesota, Market Watch, May 23, 2012
Environmental groups kick off copper-nickel mining campaign, Minnesota Public Radio, May 23, 2012
Battle waged over mining firms' plans in northern Minnesota, Star Tribune, May 22, 2012
Report: Great Lakes Vulnerable In New Mining Wave, Ashland Current, May 10, 2012
Sam Cook column: Trust at heart of copper mine debate, Duluth News Tribune, May 4, 2012
Split Opinions on Base & Precious Metals Mining, WDIO Eyewitness News, May 2, 2012
Mining Q&A Draws Hundreds to Duluth, Northland's News Center, May 2, 2012
MPR News Primer: Copper-nickel mining, Minnesota Public Radio, April 11, 2012