Top 10 Reasons To Stop PolyMet’s Sulfide Mining Proposal (Help Protect Northern Minnesota’s Waterways, Watersheds and Wildlife From PolyMet’s Proposed Sulfide-Ore Mine)

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Backcountry Hunters & Anglers is the sportsmen’s voice for our wild public lands, waters and wildlife. And the Minnesota chapter of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers (BHA) has been fighting to protect northern Minnesota’s waterways, watersheds and wildlife from proposed sulfide-ore copper mines for going on a decade now.

 

PolyMet Mining Corp. is a small Canadian company one-third owned by Glencore, a Swiss-based global commodities company. PolyMet’s primary asset is its proposed mine site and an old taconite processing facility it owns on the Iron Range. PolyMet officials are proposing an open-pit sulfide mine near Hoyt Lakes and Babbitt, with runoff primarily draining into the St. Louis River watershed and Lake Superior, although studies indicate that the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW) watershed will also be impacted.[1]

 

Top 10 Reasons To Stop PolyMet

1.) 100% Failure Rate. As explained by former Minnesota Backcountry Hunters & Anglers board member, Will Jenkins: “While iron ore mines have a long history in Minnesota, sulfide-ore copper mines are very different … Every mine in the world has caused … contamination of its surrounding area. Sulfuric acid and heavy metals leech into the soil and contaminate waterways.”[2] The EPA calls the mining of sulfide ore America’s most toxic industry.[3]

 

What sulfide mining proponents fail to mention is that the process involved in separating sulfide from copper in mining releases sulfuric acid (basically battery acid) as a toxin and pollutes the air, land and water it comes in contact with for potentially thousands of years.[4] In fact, every sulfide mine in a water-rich environment, like Minnesota, has polluted surface and/or groundwater (100% failure rate).[5]

 

2.) Water Pollution Guaranteed. The Downstream Business Coalition, a group of business leaders who employ more than 1,000 people in the Duluth area, said (in an open letter to Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton): “We believe the risk to the environment poses a long-term threat to the regional economy that far outweighs the short-term benefits.” Gregg Benson, CEO of Loll Designs, adds: “There is no more downstream for waste. We are downstream. The days of simply throwing our waste into the river and saying it’s gone away should be over.”[6]

 

In the Duluth News Tribune (“Holes in PolyMet’s plan will pollute Northland rives and Lake Superior,” 2/6/14), Liz Siverston states, and asks: “The Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement shows PolyMet plans to use an antiquated 1950s LTV pit for copper mine waste rock. The pit originally was built on top of three streams to promote drainage of iron tailings … Will sulfuric acid … drain into the streams?”[7]

 

PolyMet’s own projections acknowledge that 16 million gallons of water will leave the site untreated every year.[8] The largest human population in northeast Minnesota lives downstream of the proposed PolyMet mine. This includes the Fond-du-Lac Indian Reservation as well as the cities of Cloquet, Duluth and Superior, Wisconsin.[9]

 

3.) Multiple Watersheds Impacted. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has noted the risk of PolyMet’s polluted water flowing northward into the Boundary Waters watershed has not been sufficiently addressed in the Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). The Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission ran a complicated water model and determined that PolyMet’s pollution would flow into the watershed of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW); the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) still has not run the model, relying solely on PolyMet’s paid consultant.[10]

 

According to the Minnesota Outdoor News: “Federal and state regulators have conceded that potentially polluted water from the proposed PolyMet copper-nickel mine could flow toward the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness instead of away from it … It was long assumed that water from PolyMet’s planned mine would flow south toward the St. Louis River and Lake Superior, and away from the BWCAW.”[11]

 

In the words of DuluthReader contributor, C.A. Arneson: “Minnesota’s anti-water legislators proclaim PolyMet is in a different watershed, as if polluting Lake Superior is acceptable. They know full well that PolyMet alone is capable of polluting both watersheds … Toxic sulfide mining pollution could flow north, not only through the Peter Mitchell pit to Birch Lake, but also by way of the One Hundred Mile Swamp … beneath the Laurentian Divide … The last thing PolyMet needed was to be seen polluting two watersheds! PolyMet has staked its permitting success on ‘only’ polluting the Lake Superior watershed. As if that is not bad enough.”[12]

 

4.) At Least 500 Years of Pollution. As one concerned Minnesotan put it: “To me the biggest thing is this whole question about 500 years of pollution for 20 years of jobs.”[13] Another Minnesotan, Paul Schurke, adds: “Proponents of the PolyMet Mine concede that it will generate pollution for at least 500 years and will require perpetual treatment. Does it make sense for Minnesota to permit a 20-year mine that will threaten our … lakes and streams for 500 years?”[14]

 

PolyMet’s Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) stated: “Water leaching from the waste rock piles is expected to be contaminated … The West Mine Pit will overflow … contaminating the adjacent Partridge River with sulfates and heavy metals.” It also stated, “Groundwater at the mine site is expected to exceed water quality standards.”[15]

 

PolyMet’s Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) started out with water treatment “for perpetuity,” and ended up with water treatment “indefinitely” in its Final EIS. The meaning is the same: water treatment forever.[16] According to American Rivers (in “America’s Most Endangered Rivers of 2015”—St. Louis River, Minnesota): “A mining proponent called PolyMet ‘the snowplow’ for the industry, clearing the way for many sulfide mines to follow.”[17]

 

There are 1,500-year-old Roman-era hard rock mines in Europe that are still producing acid mine drainage pollution today.[18] It’s also worth noting that PolyMet’s first Draft EIS predicted 2,000 years of water pollution.

 

5.) Financial Risks (Billions to Clean Up). The management of PolyMet and Glencore has skillfully set up an investment vehicle that leverages their investment by transferring risk to the taxpayers of Minnesota. Their losses are limited to what they put in up front, potentially creating a significant unfunded liability for taxpayers.[19]

 

According to the Northern Minnesota tribal cooperating agencies: “Minnesota has existed for 155 years. The U.S. for 237 years. The notion that [cleanup] instruments will be available 500 years from now is not believable.”[20] Five hundred years ago, Leonardo da Vinci was painting the Mona Lisa and Christopher Columbus was landing in the Caribbean. It’s hard to imagine that 500 years from now funding will still be in place for PolyMet to operate water-treatment plants. That’s centuries after its profits from the mine are long gone.[21]

 

PolyMet’s plan is to develop and exploit the public lands of northern Minnesota, while poisoned lakes, rivers and watersheds are written off as profit. And as of late 2015 PolyMet’s financial partner, Glencore, was struggling to pay down $10 billion in debt to avoid a crippling downgrade in its credit rating to junk status.[22] Barbara Naramore, assistant commissioner for the Department of Natural Resources, said PolyMet would need to put up over $1 billion to protect state taxpayers from environmental risks.[23]

 

6.) Water Treatment (Reverse Osmosis Doesn’t Work). PolyMet is pushing the false narrative that allegedly new technology, “reverse osmosis,” can solve its inevitable water pollution woes. However, Minnesota’s taconite mining industry claims reverse osmosis (RO) is not technically or economically feasible.[24] Reverse osmosis was tested for Mesabi Nugget and it was found to be too costly or it did not work. The company could not meet standards and obtained a variance to violate Minnesota’s water-quality standards.[25]

 

As explained by MinnPost contributor C.A. Arneson: “Sulfide mining in water-intensive areas has never been done without contaminating surrounding waters. Reverse osmosis is not ‘new’ technology. It has been around for decades. If it could solve water contamination caused by metal mining it would have done so by now. Reverse osmosis cannot even solve water pollution at Minnesota’s taconite mines.”[26]

 

In PolyMet’s Draft Environmental Impact Statement, the EPA stated: “All waste rock at the site is acid generating, and acidic water … will mobilize metals and sulfates, leaching them into groundwater and surface water … The project will result in … long-term water quality impacts … increasing mercury loadings into the Lake Superior watershed … The proposed approaches to manage acid generation are untested or unproven at the proposed scale.”[27]

 

In addition, PolyMet’s 2012 news release, “PolyMet Reports Successful Water Treatment Pilot Plant,” noted that their RO test did not actually use sulfide mining wastewater. The Pilot Plant used LTV taconite tailings leachate-contaminated water for its RO process. As PolyMet’s Pilot Test disclaimer stated: “Actual results may differ materially from those in the forward-looking statements … due to actual facts differing from the assumptions underlying its predictions.”[28]

 

7.) Recent Disasters. The major tailings basin disasters of Canada’s Mount Polley in 2014 and Brazil’s Samarco in 2015, whose toxic waste flowed over 400 miles downstream, clearly demonstrate that large-scale mine dam failures are not only possible, but likely. This is especially true when dealing with the large amounts of waste rock resulting when mining massive low-grade deposits—in PolyMet's case, less than 1 percent mineralization, meaning 99 percent waste rock.[29]

 

The PolyMet tailings impoundment has the same design as the ill-fated Canadian Mount Polley tailings dam that collapsed in 2014, spewing tons of polluted water and slurry into the watershed.[30] According to the Draft Environmental Impact Statement for PolyMet’s proposed NorthMet project: “Geo-technical investigations of this tailings basin (Sitka 1995 & 1997) indicate a significant portion of the peat and clay soils under the dam have the potential to develop instability …”[31] “Due to structural instability, the tailings basin has a ‘low margin of safety.’”[32]

 

8.) Fish and Wildlife Impacts. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Division of Fish and Wildlife said that the project will definitely affect fish and wildlife, noting that “this increase in risk to water quality and fish habitat is a significant impact of the project.”[33]

 

In PolyMet’s Draft Environmental Impact Statement, the EPA stated: “This project may have substantial and unacceptable adverse impacts on aquatic resources of national importance … specifically, to the Lake Superior Watershed and the Great Lakes Basin.”[34] The EPA also said: “The levels of sulfate are well above levels that are considered protective of wild rice and will generally lead to increased mercury methylation and higher fish tissue levels of mercury in downstream water.”

 

During November 2016, at the Berkeley Pit in Montana—a former sulfide mine filled with acidic, metal-laden water, now federally managed as a Superfund site—some 10,000 geese set down in the pit, resulting in thousands of dead birds. Butte residents found carcasses in a Walmart parking lot, on roadsides and outside the city, The Washington Post reported.[35]

 

Fly Rod & Reel’s 2014 Angler of the Year, Scott Hed says: “The problem is that the mining industry has such a terrible track record—especially the big foreign conglomerates. What are the odds that after 150 years of failures, this time they are finally going to get it right? That’s just not realistic.”[36]

 

9.) Public Opinion/Polls. In 2014 over 58,000 comments were submitted on PolyMet’s Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), with over 98% opposed to the proposal.[37] In February 2017, a Minnesota Environmental Partnership (MEP) statewide poll showed that 74 percent of those polled opposed the PolyMet mine.[38]

 

As Star Tribune contributor, William Dustin, stated: “The natural resources of this state belong to all citizens. It is wrong that they are being given away at low cost to foreign corporations for the specious promise of jobs and short-term economic growth.”[39]

 

10.) Sportsmen’s View(s). “It’s tempting to buy into the false optimism, the smoke and mirrors rhetoric, claiming that these sulfide mines can be operated without any risk to northern Minnesota’s sky-blue waterways and watersheds, but when you turn over even a few rocks, the promised prospects enter the realm of fantasy,” said David A. Lien, a Minnesota Backcountry Hunters & Angles board member.[40]

 

“The fairytale version of PolyMet’s proposed sulfide mine is essentially guaranteed to morph into another Superfund site foisted on hard-working, unsuspecting taxpayers by unscrupulous international mining company executives. PolyMet is one lump of coal Minnesotans can’t afford,” adds Aaron Hebeisen, Minnesota Backcountry Hunters & Anglers co-chair.[41]

 

Submit Comments/Objections:

The Minnesota DNR has opened a public comment and objection period on a draft permit to mine for the proposed Poly Met Mining, Inc. (PolyMet) NorthMet Mining Project. Comments and written objections on the draft permit to mine will be accepted through Tuesday, March 6. For additional information see: “Public comment, objection period opens on mining draft permit.” Outdoor News: 1/5/18. http://www.outdoornews.com/2018/01/05/public-comment-objection-period-opens-mining-draft-permit/

 

Additional Information:

-Minnesota Backcountry Hunters & Anglers Report: 100-Plus Reasons To Protect Northern Minnesota’s Waterways, Watersheds and Wildlife From Proposed Sulfide-Ore Mining: http://www.backcountryhunters.org/minnesota_backcountry_hunters_anglers_report_100_reasons_to_protect_bwca

 

Also see:

-Friends of the Boundary Waters: http://friends-bwca.org/

-Sportsmen for the Boundary Waters: http://www.sportsmenfortheboundarywaters.org/

-Veterans for the Boundary Waters: https://www.savetheboundarywaters.org/veterans

-Boundary Waters Business Coalition: https://www.bwcabusiness.org/

 

Related Press/News:

-“A Sportsman's View: D.C. learning what sportsmen already know about risks of copper mining.” Duluth News Tribune: 1/2/18.

-“Lump of coal for Minnesotans.” Grand Rapids (Minn.) Herald-Review: 12/30/17.

-“Boundary Waters Mining Ban Reversed; Minnesota BHA Pushes Back.” AmmoLand.com: 12/28/17.

-“What would Teddy say (about sulfide mining)?” Grand Rapids (Minn.) Herald-Review: 12/6/17.

-“Are Minnesota’s public lands up for sale?” St. Cloud (Minn.) SCTimes: 11/28/17.

-“A Sportsman’s View: Bipartisan opposition growing to copper mining in northern Minnesota.” Duluth News Tribune: 9/28/17.

-“Sportsman’s View: Bill threatens northern Minnesota’s outdoor recreation economy.” Duluth News Tribune: 8/3/17.

-“Beware, Emmer leans toward sulfide mining near BWCA.” St. Cloud (Minn.) SCTimes: 7/1/17.

-“Rep. Nolan allies with anti-public lands politicians on sulfide mining.” Grand Rapids (Minn.) Herald-Review: 6/24/17.

-“Sportsmen: Sulfide mining puts jobs/economy at risk.” Grand Rapids (Minn.) Herald-Review: 5/17/17.

-“Sportsman’s View: Don’t trust industry on proposed copper mining.” Duluth News Tribune: 5/5/17.

-“Veteran finds healing power of wilderness in the Boundary Waters.” WTIP North Shore Community Radio: 4/2/17.

-“Sportsmen: Rep. Nolan misguided on sulfide mining.” Grand Rapids (Minn.) Herald-Review: 2/22/17.

-“Conservationist’s View: Rep. Nolan off-base on mining near BWCAW.” Duluth News Tribune: 2/18/17.

-“Boundary Waters Whitetails, Watersheds & Sulfide Mining.” Midwest Hunting & Fishing: January/February 2017, p. 30.

-“Voice your support for BWCAW.” St. Cloud (Minn.) SCTimes: 1/21/17.

 

[1] Josephine Marcotty. “New report says PolyMet mine risk fund is millions short: Mining firm doesn’t have the cash to handle long-term cleanup, report says.” Minneapolis-St. Paul (Minn.) Star Tribune: 5/13/17.

[2] Will Jenkins. “Help protect one of the most pristine freshwater fisheries in the country.” The Will To Hunt: 2/26/16.

[3] Conor Mihell. “Protecting The Boundary Waters Canoe Area: America’s most popular federal wilderness is menaced by a giant copper-and-nickel mine.” Sierra: 10/19/16.

[4] Julie Hiemenz. “Mining the BWCA a misuse of precious resource.” St. Cloud (Minn.) SC Times: 10/14/17.

[5] Water Legacy. “Hold Hardrock (Sulfide) Mines Financially Responsible for Toxic Pollution.” WaterLegacy.org: 6/13/17.

[6] John Myers. “Duluth business owners oppose copper mining.” Duluth News Tribune: 10/13/15.

[7] Liz Siverston. “Holes in PolyMet’s plan will pollute Northland rives and Lake Superior.” Duluth News Tribune: 2/16/14.

[8] Javier Serna. “Proposed mine lands St. Louis River in ‘most endangered’ list.” Outdoor News: 4/10/15, p. 5.

[9] Elanne Palcich. “The great sulfide mining divide: You can’t save the BWCAW unless you save the Lake Superior watershed.” MinnPost.com: 7/8/16.

[10] Dawn Serra. “The Boundary Waters needs your help again!” Wilderness Watch: 7/25/17.

[11] Editor(s). “Regulators: Some PolyMet mine water might get to Boundary Waters lands.” Outdoor News: 9/11/15, p. 5.

[12] C.A. Arneson. “The PolyMet lie you do not have to be a scientist to recognize: Mine site drainage to the BWCA.” DuluthReader.com: 10/12/17, p. 20.

[13] CBS Minnesota. “New Environmental Review Coming For PolyMet Mine.” CBS: 12/1/13.

[14] Paul Schurke. “Rebecca Otto speaking in Ely Nov. 26.” Email: 11/25/13.

[15] Erik Jensen. “On mining precious metals: Jobs not worth 2,000 years of pollution.” Duluth News Tribune: 10/29/11.

[16] C.A. Arneson. “When it comes to sulfide mining, let’s use ‘pro-water’ and ‘anti-water’ to describe stances.” MinnPost.com: 2/17/17.

[17] American Rivers. “America’s Most Endangered Rivers of 2015 (St. Louis River, Minnesota). ActAmericanrivers.org: April 2015.

[18] William E. Smith. “EPA did not approve PolyMet mine plan.” Bemidji Pioneer: 7/11/14.

[19] John Gappa (John Gappa serves as the chief financial officer for a Minnesota-based company and has 30 years of experience as a financial executive. In 2011, Gappa was named CFO of the year by the Minneapolis / St. Paul Business Journal). “Don’t burden Minnesota taxpayers with PolyMet cleanup costs.” MinnPost.com: 4/15/15.

[20] Jeff Guntzel. “Seeking copper, Canada’s PolyMet offers Minnesota jobs and water pollution.” AmericanAljazerra.com: 12/6/13.

[21] Marc Fink. “PolyMet study proves risk too high.” Duluth News Tribune: 1/15/14.

[22] Ron Sternal (St. Louis Park, retired Wall Street executive), Alan Thometz (certified financial analyst and former director of advisory services for Grant Thornton LLP), and John Gappa (CFO for Post Consumer Brands). “PolyMet’s Minnesota copper-nickel project is risky business.” Minneapolis-St. Paul (Minn.) Star Tribune: 10/28/15.

[23] Josephine Marcotty. “State predicts PolyMet would need $1B to cover risks from copper-nickel mine.” Minneapolis-St. Paul (Minn.) Star Tribune: 12/20/17.

[24] C.A. Arneson. “Minnesota’s water war.” MinnPost.com: 8/24/17.

[25] C.A. Arneson. “Why proposed solutions to sulfide-mining pollution won’t work.” Minnpost.com: 1/22/14.

[26] C.A. Arneson. “Why proposed solutions to sulfide-mining pollution won’t work.” Minnpost.com: 1/22/14.

[27] Erik Jensen. “On mining precious metals: Jobs not worth 2,000 years of pollution.” Duluth News Tribune: 10/29/11.

[28] C.A. Arneson. “Minnesota’s water war.” MinnPost.com: 8/24/17.

[29] Elanne Palcich. “The PolyMet bill: Rep. Nolan’s war of choice on Minnesota’s waters.” MinnPost.com: 7/28/17.

[30] Elanne Palcich. “Nolan’s Toxic PolyMet Bill Passes U.S. House.” DuluthReader: December 2017, p. 16.

[31] Carla Anreson. “PolyMet’s planned basin has ‘low margin of safety.’” Duluth News Tribune: 12/10/14.

[32] Erik Jensen. “On mining precious metals: Jobs not worth 2,000 years of pollution.” Duluth News Tribune: 10/29/11.

[33] John Myers. “PolyMet study: Water from mine site would need 500 years of treatment.”  Duluth News Tribune: 10/5/13.

[34] Erik Jensen. “On mining precious metals: Jobs not worth 2,000 years of pollution.” Duluth News Tribune: 10/29/11.

[35] Ben Guarino. “Thousands of Montana snow geese die after landing in toxic, acidic mine pit.” The Washington Post: 12/7/16.

[36] Zach Matthews. “Scott Hed’s New Fight … for Minnesota’s Boundary Waters.” Fly Rod & Reel: 8/15/16.

[37] Dawn Serra. “The Boundary Waters needs your help again!” Wilderness Watch: 7/25/17.

[38] Elanne Palcich. “The PolyMet bill: Rep. Nolan’s war of choice on Minnesota’s waters.” MinnPost.com: 7/28/17.

[39] William K. Dustin. “Mining has a cost, so let’s make it pay.” [Minneapolis-St. Paul] Star Tribune: 11/29/10.

[40] David A. Lien, Minnesota Backcountry Hunters & Angles board member. “Sportsmen support Forest Service actions on sulfide mining leases.” Grand Rapids (Minn.) Herald-Review: 6/18/16. David is a Grand Rapids (Minn.) native, former Air Force officer, author of “Hunting for Experience II: Tales of Hunting & Habitat Conservation,” and during 2014 he was recognized by Field & Stream as a “Hero of Conservation.”

[41] Aaron Hebeisen, Minnesota Backcountry Hunters & Anglers co-chair. “Lump of coal for Minnesotans.” Grand Rapids (Minn.) Herald-Review: 12/30/17. Aaron is a conservationist and ecologist who has worked with the MN DNR and the USDA on wildlife research. He has grown up hunting, fishing, and camping on the Iron Range at his family cabin near Nashwauk.

About Minnesota BHA Chapter

Minnesota BHA seeks to ensure our North American heritage of hunting and fishing in a natural setting on wild, public lands and waters through education, advocacy, and boots on the ground work.

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