PolyMet Applies for Key Mining Permit

PolyMet's proposed processing facility, the former Erie taconite plant. (MN DNR photo)
PolyMet’s proposed processing facility, the former Erie taconite plant. (MN DNR photo)

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has received the first application for a permit to mine copper in the state in history. PolyMet Mining Corp. submitted the application yesterday, and it will now be reviewed by regulators and the public.

The mine proposal has been controversial because copper mining is done in sulfide ore, which produces toxic pollution when exposed to air and water. The location where PolyMet wishes to mine is in the headwaters of the St. Louis River, in the Lake Superior watershed.

After completing its environmental review earlier this year, PolyMet has now submitted information about not just its mining proposal, but how it would provide funding to ensure the mine is closed, cleaned up, and maintained if the company goes bankrupt or otherwise abandons the site.

DNR’s review of the application is expected to take several months, during which the application will probably be modified to accommodate the agency’s input.

“The review process looks closely at details of the proposed project to determine whether it is designed to meet state standards, provides appropriate financial assurance, and has incorporated the environmental protections outlined in the Environmental Impact Statement,” the agency stated.

After the DNR is done, the document may be released for a public comment period.

“This application is the product of more than a decade of independent and peer-reviewed scientific studies and analysis. It reflects the culmination of thousands of hours of meticulous work by the PolyMet team and our consultants and advisors,” said Jon Cherry, PolyMet’s president and CEO.

Water and wilderness advocates were still reviewing the 15,000-page application, but were immediately critical of the document for being incomplete and lacking the detail that the state has long been promised would be included in the permit.

“The lack of detail from PolyMet is insulting to Minnesota taxpayers, who reasonably expect that PolyMet will show that it can pay for its own cleanup before it starts digging,” the Mining Truth coalition said in a statement.

The group points to PolyMet’s plans to offer only $12 million initially in a “damage deposit” up front, that the company proposes indefinite wastewater treatment in violation of state law, and the failure to explain how it would compensate for the largest permitted destruction of wetlands in Minnesota history.

The DNR also announced it might seek a hearing in front of a judge before approving the document, to clear up legal issues before reaching the public comment period.

The full application and other resources are available on the DNR’s website.

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