Starting late this fall, the public will have a chance to review and comment on the amended environmental review for the first proposed copper-nickel mine in northern Minnesota.
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has announced that the Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for PolyMet will be released on November 22. A public comment period will begin on November 25.
The DNR has not said how long the comment period will be. It must be at least 45 days according to federal law; the comment period for the first version of the Draft EIS in 2009-2010 was 90 days.
In a news release, DNR commission Tom Landwehr said, “We are taking a hard and objective look at this project. Our top priority has always been to publish the best possible environmental review of a very complex project.”
The revised environmental review is being produced to respond to criticisms of the first Draft EIS released in 2009. That document received a ranking of “unacceptable” and “inadequate” from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency due to predictions of long-lasting water pollution, risks to taxpayers, and insufficient information.
Last week, the EPA sent a letter to the lead agencies on the environmental review, stating that progress had been made but significant concerns remain. The Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness listed several of those concerns on its web site, including concerns about contamination of groundwater and the Partridge River, destruction of wetlands, and the financial costs of perpetual water treatment at the site.
In response to the letter and subsequent media attention, at least one mine opponent alleged the EPA’s letter had been modified to make it less critical. According to the Associated Press, critical statements were removed from an earlier draft of the letter. One statement that was removed from the final draft was, “It appears that the project as proposed and analyzed in the (current EIS draft) may still result in water quality impacts that exceed water quality standards.”
Once the comment period on the Supplemental Draft EIS is over, regulators will review and respond to all comments and, according to the DNR, “will determine if the final EIS adequately evaluates the project and its likely environmental impacts. If the EIS is determined adequate the project may proceed to permit considerations and other approvals, which will specify conditions that must be met to protect the environment.”