Aerial View of the Partridge River at the proposed PolyMet NorthMet site, located on US Forest Service lands in the Superior National Forest of northeastern Minnesota. Long standing Federal environmental protections from the Weeks Act of 1911 prohibit strip mining the National Forest lands and was meant to protect this land into perpetuity. The USFS public lands were designated for watershed protection and to secure the maintenance of a perpetual growth of forest. The land was to be held as national forest land. Strip mining is not allowed on Weeks Act lands, therefore PolyMet would need special legislation removing current environmental protections in order to open a strip mine on this public land. See Oberstar-Klobuchar "Superior National Forest Land Adjustment Act"
PolyMet supplemental draft EIS to be prepared
(Released June 24, 2010)
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, St. Paul District, along with the U.S. Forest Service and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR), will prepare a supplemental draft environmental impact statement (EIS) for PolyMet Mining’s proposed NorthMet mining project, located near Hoyt Lakes, Minn.
A supplemental draft EIS is needed in order to include analysis of the potential impacts of a land exchange between PolyMet and the U.S. Forest Service, to evaluate new information and new alternatives related to the NorthMet project, and to make the results of new analyses available for public review. The agencies have determined that this path is more efficient than having the U.S. Forest Service develop a separate EIS for the land exchange.
The agencies have met several times to discuss issues related to the supplemental draft EIS, and to identify the best path forward in completing the EIS. These meetings have strengthened the partnership among the state and federal agencies involved in completing the NorthMet EIS. This cooperation is demonstrated by the inclusion of the U.S. Forest Service as a co-lead agency and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as a cooperating agency through the completion of the EIS process.
The supplemental draft EIS will:
1) Fully incorporate the proposed land exchange between PolyMet and the U.S. Forest Service, Superior National Forest.
2) Develop and incorporate additional project modifications, alternatives and mitigation measures to minimize environmental impacts.
3) Provide clear descriptions of alternatives and mitigation.
4) Consider EPA and other public comments and recommendations.
The supplemental draft EIS will be a fully revised document. It will build on the draft EIS and combine and simplify the two separate project and land exchange EISs. The supplemental draft EIS will provide appropriate public disclosure, include at least one public information meeting, ensure compliance with federal and state environmental review laws and regulations, and provide an effective and efficient process.
The agencies have made significant progress in reviewing the more than 3,700 comments received during the public review period for the draft EIS that ended in February. The agencies continue to evaluate new ideas for project alternatives and mitigation, and are planning additional studies and analyses.
PolyMet NorthMet DEIS update
Timberjay Article- EPA: Major problems with PolyMet EIS
Timberjay Article- Second EIS will be needed before PolyMet can begin mining
Lake Superior Mining News- Feds: PolyMet Environmental Review “Unsatisfactory"
The EPA has rated the PolyMet NorthMet DEIS as Environmentally Unsatisfactory - Inadequate, or EU-3 and gives this adverse rating rarely. Less than 1% of EIS's receive such a rating from the EPA. PolyMet's Environmentally Unsatisfactory (EU) adverse rating by the EPA is a very uncommon occurrence.
"EPA has rated the DEIS as Environmentally Unsatisfactory - Inadequate"
source US EPA
"anticipated environmental impacts of the proposed action are not fully and fairly addressed in the DEIS"
source US DOI-USFWS
Federal Agency Comments on the PolyMet NorthMet project Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS)
From the Department of the Interior to the Army Corp of Engineers (ACOE), on the October 2009 Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for PolyMet's NorthMet Project, includes Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) comments.
The anticipated environmental impacts of the proposed action are not fully and fairly addressed in the DEIS. In particular, the DEIS does not fully address anticipated project effects from or to: an interconnected action, federally listed species, the bald eagle, wetlands and mine run-off. In addition, the DEIS does not appear to fully satisfy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) or Corps wetland mitigation requirements, leaving part of necessary compensation to be determined subsequent to the NEPA analysis.
The DEIS states that it was the position of the United States that the mineral rights leased by PolyMet do not include the right to open pit mine the National Forest System land. PolyMet disagrees with this interpretation. However, the DEIS also states that the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) and PolyMet are exploring the feasibility of a land exchange, which would consolidate surface ownership and mineral rights and that the USFS will be initiating its own environmental impact statement to evaluate this land exchange. The DEIS states unequivocally throughout the document that it assumes a land exchange would occur. A land exchange is a connected action under the National Environmental Policy Act (see CEQ’s regulations for implementing NEPA, Section 1508.25) and, therefore, should be discussed in the same impact statement. Other than continuing to assume a land exchange, the DEIS offers no analysis of a land exchange between the USFS and PolyMet of a proposed 6,700 acres in the DEIS. Because of the interconnectedness, it appears that the scope of the DEIS should be expanded to include a discussion of the anticipated environmental impacts resulting from the land exchange.
The FWS has the following significant issues relating to federally threatened and endangered species, fish and wildlife resources, physical impacts on water resources, impacts on wetland impacts, water appropriations, surface water runoff and erosion/sedimentation, wastewater, and solid waste.
Project Closure – The DEIS states that a closure plan would be finalized to provide details for the final closure of the actual as-built facilities during project operations. No additional details are provided about how to ensure that continuing runoff from the mine spoil is mitigated. The DEIS does not state who would be the responsible party should there be significant acid mine runoff event into surrounding wetlands and uplands, which drain into the Partridge River.
Reclamation of Plant Site – Closure Cost Estimate - The DEIS estimates that it would cost $44.6 million (in 2007 dollars) to complete a variety of closure tasks including reclamation, revegetation, remediation, removal of structures, monitoring and maintenance. It was stated these are very rough estimates. These figures need to be updated and refined based on actual surface mining reclamation data prior to the Final EIS in order for agencies to better understand the cost of reclaiming such a large area to a mix of forest land and wetland habitat.
No Action Alternative – The DEIS states that no social or economic benefits would result from the no action alternative and that local employment and economic revenue would not increase. No data or background information is provided to make this conclusion. The USFS is required to manage its lands, which does provide social and economic benefits to the local community. Timber production, hunting, fishing, camping, and other activities are all income producing benefits resulting from a healthy, undisturbed ecosystem. The proposed mine site is owned by the USFS and lies within 21 miles of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. Therefore, there are social and economic benefits from the no action alternative.
Mine Site Alternative – Only minor alternatives were presented in the alternatives provided in this section related to the surface and ground water. No alternatives were presented in the DEIS that looked outside the proposed Mine Site. Additionally, the DEIS states that underground mining would not be economically viable. No economic analysis is provided to support this statement. We disagree that the DEIS explains why the use of underground mining would not meet the project’s purpose and need.
Wetland Delineation – The wetlands of the proposed Mine Site were delineated for PolyMet by Barr Engineering using the Corps’ 1987 Wetland Delineation Manual. However, we found wetland delineation errors in Figure 4.2-1. For example, Wetland #20, which was delineated as a sedge meadow, can clearly be identified, using 2008 color infrared FSA photography, as an impounded marsh surrounded by forested wetland. Another unfortunate delineation error is the upland forest between Wetland #103 and Wetland #18 that omitted a long, linear hardwood swamp. The Corps should re-check and verify the wetland delineation mapping for the entire proposed Mine Site.
Wetland Mitigation, Off-Site Mitigation – The DEIS states that total direct and indirect wetland impacts from the proposed project total 1,522 acres. PolyMet has proposed wetland mitigation among three sites – on-site mitigation, the Aitkin site mitigation, and the Hinckley site mitigation. The total for these mitigation sites only add up to 1,287, mostly at a 1:1 wetland mitigation ratio. Using the Corps’ usual requirement of a 1.5:1 ratio, a total of 2,283 wetlands would need to be restored or created to meet the Corps mitigation rule. A significant amount of wetland mitigation is not specified in the DEIS, which states that compensatory mitigation for any remaining acres would need to be addressed through permit conditions following the Record of Decision in this EIS. We maintain that all wetland mitigation requirements should be completely identified in the DEIS.
From the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), on the October 2009 Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for PolyMet's NorthMet Project.
According to the DEIS, all waste rock at the site is acid generating, and acidic water moving through the waste rock and tailings will mobilize metals and sulfates, leaching them into groundwater and surface water. The DEIS projects that water quality standards will be exceeded for sulfates and other contaminants and describes mitigation measures that include tailings basin seepage collection, wastewater collection and recycling into process water, and various barrier methods for waste rock, tailings and exposed rock faces. The proposed project would fill approximately 1,000 wetlands acres, largely high quality and forested, and indirectly affect approximately 500 more acres.
Based on our review of the DEIS, EPA has rated the DEIS as Environmentally Unsatisfactory - Inadequate, or EU-3. Environmentally Unsatisfactory (EU) indicates that our review has identified adverse environmental impacts that are of sufficient magnitude that EPA
believes the proposed action must not proceed as proposed. The numeric portion of the rating indicates the DEIS does not present adequate information for the EPA to fully assess the environmental impacts that should be avoided in order to fully protect the environment or EPA identifies reasonably available alternatives which could reduce the environmental impacts of the action. This rating applies to the Proposed Action, the Mine Site Alternative and the Tailings Basin Alternative. Our summary of ratings definitions is enclosed.
EPA has assigned the EU rating because our review of the DEIS determined that the proposed action will result in environmentally unsatisfactory water quality impacts. Specifically, EPA believes that the project will exceed water quality standards because of discharges during the life of the mining operation and on a long-term basis, including the post-closure period. These water quality impacts are largely related to water that contacts acid-generating waste rock and mine faces and to wastewater escaping the tailings basin through seeps and in groundwater. EPA also finds the wetlands mitigation plan environmentally unacceptable because it does not provide mitigation for all impacts to wetlands, particularly for indirect impacts.
EPA has assigned the Inadequate (3) rating to the DEIS because EPA believes that the analyses of the hydrogeological profiles at both the mine and processing sites are inadequate to determine the full extent of impacts or to justify mitigation options. Consequently, we believe that the DEIS likely underestimates water quality impacts and that the project is likely to have additional unmitigated long-term discharges. EPA has identified information gaps relating to groundwater impacts, groundwater-surface water interaction, tailings basin stability and containment, and groundwater discharges to surface water. EPA believes the DEIS should evaluate alternatives to avoid mine pit overflow and explore additional mitigation for discharges and waste rock management, some of which are identified briefly in the document. Furthermore, EPA does not agree with the compensation described for wetlands impacts and proposes alternative mitigation ratios. The DEIS did not provide information on financial assurance, which EPA believes critical to the decision-making process when long-term impacts and mitigation are involved.
EPA determined that the project will result in unacceptable and long-term water quality impacts, which include exceeding water quality standards, releasing unmitigated wastewater discharges to water bodies (during operation and in the post-closure period), and increasing mercury loadings into the Lake Superior watershed.
EPA believes the information about the project's estimation of acid generation needs to be updated. The project's proposed operation and post-closure management plan for acid generating waste rock and wastewater is inadequate and needs to be improved. The proposed approaches to manage acid generation are untested or unproven at the proposed scale. EPA believes the tailings basin will contribute to water quality impacts by leaking contaminants into groundwater that may be hydraulically connected to surface water. EPA believes the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) needs to include adequate hydrogeological and hydrological analyses for the tailings basin and surrounding area and for the mine site. Tailings basin and mine site water management needs to be based on adequate hydrogeological hydrological information.
EPA finds this project may have substantial and unacceptable adverse impacts on aquatic resources of national importance (ARNI). EPA believes the coniferous and open bogs, comprising a large percentage of the approximately 33,880 total wetland acres, within the Partridge River Watershed to be an ARNI due to the values they provide in terms of unique habitat, biodiversity, downstream water quality, and flood control specifically, to the Lake Superior Watershed and the Great Lakes Basin.
With impacts to over 1,000 acres of wetlands, the DEIS provides incomplete and inadequate compensation for the loss of wetlands and their function. Indirect impacts to wetlands are not completely identified or compensated for in the mitigation plan. EPA also believes that some of the mitigation offered for direct impacts is inadequate, given that the type and function of wetlands impacted is difficult to replace. EPA's preferred mitigation ratios for the project's impacts are described in the attached detailed comments. Insofar as the DEIS for this project is the chief environmental document supporting the issuance of the USACE CW A Section 404 permit, a revised or supplemental DEIS should identify and describe mitigation for all impacts. It should also include wetland monitoring plans and adaptive management plans, especially related to indirect impacts to mine site wetlands. The Section 404(b)(1) Guidelines, 40 CFR Section 230.1 O(b), prohibit discharges that will result in a violation of the water quality standards. If water quality standards cannot be met in conjunction with this project as described within the DEIS, U.S. EPA would not support the issuance of a permit for this project. If our concerns are not addressed prior to the issuance of the Section 404 permit, EPA may elevate pursuant to Part IV, paragraph 3(a) and 3(b) of the August 1992 CWA Section 404(q) of the Memorandum of Agreement between EPA and the Department of Army.
Long-term post-closure treatment will be necessary to protect water quality; therefore, EPA believes financial assurance information should have been included in the DEIS. The amount and viability of financial assurance are critical factors in determining the effectiveness of these activities, and EPA believes it is necessary to analyze and disclose financial assurance factors in the DEIS to determine the significance of the impacts and inform decisions about the project. Financial assurance information includes a description of State and/or federal agency requirements, closure costs, estimated bond amounts needed for each closure and reclamation activity, and how the bonds should be modified should additional temporary, long-term, or perpetual treatment and/or remediation needs be determined during operations.
EPA believes that because of deficiencies in the DElS, additional information, alternatives, and mitigation measures should be evaluated and made available for public comment in a revised or supplemental DEIS. EPA will continue to work with USACE and the cooperating agencies to resolve the issues we have identified. If we are unable to resolve our concerns, this matter may be a candidate for referral to the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) for resolution.
• Recommendation: The revised/supplemental DEIS should evaluate whether the waste
rock chemistry predictions, waste rock management plans and post-closure needs are
taken into consideration in the current mining plans. We further recommend that USACE
and the applicant determine what additional tests may be necessary to reflect the current
mine plan, then complete those tests.
• Recommendation: EPA suggests that the revised/supplemental DEIS model ARD
inflows assuming various degrees of effectiveness of covers and other designs. We
further recommend analyzing other management strategies to prevent ARD and
developing adaptive management options that can address the likely situation that ARD
will be generated post-closure from pit walls. Regarding the stockpile liners, we
recommend the revised/supplemental DEIS consider measures to protect the permanent
stockpile liners from erosion or other surface impacts that could occur over the long term.
These liners have potential to be damaged if they are exposed.
• Recommendation: The revised/supplemental DEIS should include information upon
which conclusions regarding mercury behavior at the site were based. Depending on this
information, EPA may suggest that the applicant perform additional or more appropriate
studies on potential for mercury mobilization.
• Recommendation: Waste rock management needs to be described thoroughly to allow
decision-makers to evaluate whether it will sufficiently prevent ARD from entering the
aquatic environment. EPA recommends the revised/supplemental DEIS describe how
waste rock would be sorted during operation, and how the success of segregation will be
determined. We also recommend a discussion of criteria for the field determinations and
any plans for quality assurance in these field decisions. We also recommend the
revised/supplemental DEIS describe how waste rock management and pits would be
adaptively managed should segregation be compromised or ineffective in preventing
• Recommendation: We recommend describing the WWTF further, in particular its
capacity relative to anticipated flows. We also recommend using revised ARD
assumptions (as described in above comments) to evaluate loading to the WWTF.
Management plans should recognize that long-term treatment and discharge will likely be
necessary in the post-closure period.
• Recommendation: The revised/supplemental DEIS should include information about
the operation of the treatment wetlands. The information should include a long-term
adaptive management plan for the treatment wetlands, especially with regard to plant
maintenance, removal of accumulated metals in the wetland plants and sediment, and
monitoring for effectiveness.
Given that the performance history on treatment wetlands of this size and scope is
limited, EPA further recommends the revised/supplemental DEIS explore additional
alternatives for treating this wastewater.
• Recommendation: EPA recommends the revised/supplemental DEIS develop
operations and closure alternatives that will avoid or prevent pit overflow. The overflow
scenario should include measures that will protect water quality downstream, among
them treatment alternatives, a monitoring plan, and adaptive management plans for the
overflow. We also recommend further evaluation of whether overflow from the West Pit
will meet Lake Superior mercury standards.
• Recommendations: The revised/supplemental DEIS should include an adequate
hydrogeological and hydrological evaluation of the mine site. EPA maintains that
additional data gathering is crucial to assessing impacts. Additional field data may be
necessary. Furthermore, the revised/supplemental DEIS should clarify how and why
the MODFLOW model is appropriate for use in the mine pit area. We also believe
model assumptions should be re-assessed to take into account previous comments on
the potential for ARD and less-than-complete success of untested anti-oxidation
measures. If models continue to prove uncertain in this area, we suggest reevaluating
groundwater analysis and developing more protective management and
mitigation measures. The same applies to the use of the model for evaluating mine
dewatering impacts on the Partridge River.
• Recommendation: We suggest the revised/supplemental DEIS discuss mine pit impacts
to migratory birds, whether Federally-listed or not, as well as opportunities to reduce the
risk of adverse impacts to tribal members' health due to subsistence consumption of
potentially contaminated trust resources.
• Recommendation: We recommend the revised/supplemental DEIS determine potential
impacts to fish populations in waters downstream of the Mine Site. Water quality
standard exceedances that may ultimately affect fish populations should be mitigated.
• Recommendation: We recommend that the revised/supplemental DEIS include
information to determine whether and what type of NPDES permit coverage is required
at the plant site.
• Recommendation: EPA believes that analyzing tailing basin stability is important as
part of informed decision-making for this project; clearly, the basin's ability to retain
additional mine tailings and hydrometallurgical wastes is crucial to preventing releases to
the environment. The revised/supplemental DEIS should include a stability analysis of
the tailings basin in its current state and under the project's operating and post-closure
conditions. Furthermore, if the basin is found potentially unusable as proposed, another
disposal area would need to be evaluated as an alternative as part of the
• Recommendations: More information is necessary to evaluate impacts to these rivers. We
recommend the following. The revised/supplemental DEIS should provide a complete
impact analysis of the Partridge River and Embarrass River based on an accurate
characterization of their flow and assimilative capacity, under current and project conditions.
More data is needed to describe conditions in the downstream lakes. Where current data is
lacking, data collection may be warranted. Where historical data is not available, we
recommend considering reference data from other similar streams in the area.
• Recommendations: We recommend that a revised/supplemental DEIS include adequate
information about groundwater flow at the tailings basin and about the contribution of
upwelling groundwater to surface water. Adequate information will also include an
analysis of existing contamination. We recommend the revised/supplemental DEIS
address the potential for metals or other contaminants to mobilize at higher pH (antimony
and arsenic) and evaluate how mixing current and project -related tailings may affect
• Recommendation: Further study and justification is needed to validate the conclusion
that conditions present in October 2008 will represent conditions when the NorthMet
mine is active. EPA believes that a revised/supplemental DEIS should re-evaluate the
estimated f1ow, location or duration of existing and potential future seeps. We also
recommend the revised/supplemental DEIS describe the monitoring program that would
address seeps, and the alternative remedies needed in the event that continued post-closure
seepage does not meet water quality standards.
• Recommendation: Additional justification needs to be provided ensuring that future
mining operations will not result in the west side surface seeps to again become active.
Depending on the results of this work, the seepage collection system may need to be
enhanced to address these potential seeps. Any potential groundwater recovery system
will also need to be evaluated for use along the western boundary of the tailings basin.
• Recommendation: Additional support is necessary to confirm the conclusions regarding
improved water quality when NorthMet tailings are added to the LTVSMC tailings. We
note that these experimental results cannot be interpreted further unless it can be
established that the experiments that form the basis of this conclusion accurately simulate
long-term behavior of the tailings under in situ conditions (i.e., pH, redox conditions,
microbial effects, etc.).
• Recommendations: The revised/supplemental DEIS should also include a discussion of
adaptive placement of collection wells, a discussion of long-term performance goals for
this alternative, and an analysis of how this alternative will achieve water quality
standards. We also suggest including a year-by-year modeling of this seepage to
determine if its metal loadings increase over time.
The DEIS indicates that PolyMet is conducting additional sampling to better understand
mercury behavior in the Project Area. EPA recommends completing this study and
presenting the results and conclusions in the revised/supplemental OEIS, prior to
formulating conclusions regarding potential mercury impacts associated with the Tailings
• Recommendation: The Tailings Basin Alternative should include a water quality
monitoring program to assess groundwater quality prior to its discharge.
EPA recommends the revised/supplemental DEIS evaluate using a non-discharge
alternative for storm water runoff, if it can be carried out without increasing ground water
flow to the pit, as opposed to the direct discharge of stormwater to the river. Benefits can
include enhanced recharge to wetland areas, as well as providing groundwater storage
and increased base flow during drought periods.
• Recommendation: The revised/supplemental DEIS should provide more information on
the PRB aspect of this alternative, including the proposed design of the PRB and a
discussion of the mechanisms invoked for the simultaneous removal of sulfate, arsenic,
and selenium. Given the uncertainty of this approach, we recommend the
revised/supplemental DEIS evaluate contingency treatment alternatives for metals-
contaminated water if the barrier system were to fail to meet its operating design and
describe an approach for adaptive management.
• Recommendation: The revised/supplemental DEIS needs to further clarify information
on hydrometallurgical waste drainage, and we recommend adopting a management plan
to monitor for drainage and, as necessary, manage drainage beyond year 34 from these
cells. The revised/supplemental DEIS should more fully explain how the 34-year limit
would be appropriate for hydrometallurgical cell drainage.
• Recommendation: We recommend collecting adequate additional data for Colby Lake
and the Whitewater Reservoir that will support the proposed action will meet water
• Recommendation: We recommend the revised/supplemental DEIS evaluate mitigation
options that will reduce arsenic levels from the proposed action.
• Recommendation: We recommend the revised/supplemental DEIS address the potential
for additional management to prevent contamination to Colby Lake, or additional
treatment at the Colby Lake Public Water Supply.
• Recommendation: The revised/supplemental DEIS should include information to
support the DEIS conclusion that there will not be any impacts to the public water system
in Hoyt Lakes. An analysis of the water systems treatment removal capabilities,
especially for aluminum, should be included to ensure that these contaminants will not be
• Recommendation: The revised/supplemental DEIS should clarify the application of the
Minnesota wild rice sulfate water quality standards in Minn. R.Ch. 7050.0220 and
7050.0224, given that the DEIS acknowledges the presence of isolated patches of wild
rice in the Upper Partridge River, and describe whether sulfates from the project will
impact the St. Louis River. We recommend the revised/supplemental DEIS include the
10 mg/L sulfate number within the tables of lists of applicable standards and predicted
water quality (Page 4.1-141) and include a discussion of how it applies to on-site and
downstream waters potentially affected.
• Recommendation: The revised/supplemental DEIS should include the Fond du Lac
downstream water quality standards in its discussion of applicable water quality
standards and how the standards will be met (pp. 4.1-30 - 4.1-32).
• Recommendation: The revised/supplemental DEIS should define the subsistence fish
consumption levels used to support the DEIS conclusions. It should also consider other
Tribes located on Lake Superior that may also be adversely affected by higher mercury
levels in fish tissue due to consumption rates higher than the general population (e.g., the
Bad River and Red Cliff Reservations in Wisconsin, and the Keweenaw Bay Indian
Community's Ontonagon Reservation on the Upper Peninsula of Michigan). We
recommend the revised/supplemental DEIS describe how the NorthMet project may
contribute to exceedance of the Grand Portage Band's water quality standards for
• Recommendation: We recommend re-evaluating cumulative impacts based on relevant
data on project impacts, as noted in the comments in the water quality section above.
• Recommendations: We recommend the revised/supplemental DEIS include information
about the feasibility and economic viability of underground mining for this project. We
recommend resolving water quality concerns prior to the 404 permit review.
• Recommendations:EPA recommends adopting a 2: 1 mitigation ratio for restoration, given the
relative uncertainty of success and the extended period of time (decades) that
functions associated with forested/bog wetland types will be lost while mitigation
areas are establishing themselves.
• Recommendations: EPA recommends the revised/supplemental DEIS include a
complete discussion of indirect impacts to wetlands along rail lines and at the mine site.
The assessments of indirect impacts at the tailings basin and along rail lines should be
supported by specific information from other sites, if they are referenced, or by a
discussion of methodologies. We recommend describing proposed monitoring.
• Recommendation: EPA recommends that additional ground water data be collected to
adequately evaluate the interconnection between bedrock and the surficial aquifers and
• Recommendation: We recommend the revised/supplemental DEIS describe mercury
mitigation measures for the project.
• Recommendation: The air quality modeling to assess cumulative impacts should
consider all current and reasonably foreseeable projects in the area. We recommend
adding these sources into the model and including the new information in the
• Recommendation: We recommend USACE ask the mining company to describe
adequate financial assurance as part of a revised/supplemental DEIS so that the
information on the feasibility and commitment to long-term controls and/or treatment can
be evaluated during the decision-making process. The State requirements for financial
assurance should be described in the revised/supplemental DEIS, as well. We
recommend that the revised or supplemental DEIS identify the estimated bond amounts
needed for each closure and reclamation activity for the proposed project facilities and
also discuss whether and how the state can modify the bond during the course of
operations if temporary, long-term, or perpetual treatment and/or remediation needs are
discovered during operations. We recommend identifying responsible parties for any
post-closure cleanup actions should they be necessary, as part of financial assurance.
We recommend the DEIS estimate contingency reclamation cost. While the OEIS
acknowledges that Minnesota Rule 6132.1200 requires the mining company to establish
financial assurance one year after the beginning of operations, this information is not
included in the DEIS. There is no discussion of how NorthMet intends to meet the
Minnesota contingency rule, except that it pledges to comply.
EPA suggests the revised/supplemental DEIS include a reasonable determination of
contingency closure cost estimates based on the plan of operations.
• Recommendation: EPA recommends that the revised/supplemental DEIS include an
appendix that reevaluates the potential for asbestos-like minerals to be found in the ore
deposit. It should discuss an adaptive management approach that includes how the
company proposes to monitor, and if necessary, address the potential release of asbestos like
minerals into the environment during operation, closure, and post-closure.
• Recommendation: We recommend the revised/supplemental DEIS address analysis
pertaining to the land transfer with the USFS and impacts to tribal trust resources. The
subsequent Final EIS would encompass impacts from all aspects of the proposed project
and present a comprehensive, cumulative impacts analysis. This information is necessary
to make an informed decision regarding the proposed project.
• Recommendation: We recommend the revised/supplemental DEIS evaluate and
disclose impacts to all media collectively across the 1854 Ceded Territory as a whole.
We also recommend removing references to the draft work known as "the Protocol to
Assess Expanded Cumulative Impacts to Native Americans." The referenced work is a
draft document in development and is neither published by EPA nor publicly available.
Federal Cooperating Agency comment letters linked here.
Center For Biological Diversity
For Immediate Release, February 1, 2010
Contact: Marc Fink, Center for Biological Diversity, (218) 525-3884
Proposed PolyMet Mine Would Violate Environmental Laws and Cannot Proceed
DULUTH, Minn.— The Center for Biological Diversity today submitted detailed comments on the draft environmental impact statement for the proposed NorthMet copper-nickel mine on the Superior National Forest in northeastern Minnesota. The Center’s comments rely on the agencies’ environmental analysis to demonstrate that the proposed mine would violate numerous environmental laws, destroying critical wildlife habitat and valuable wetlands, and cannot proceed.
“According to the draft analysis, PolyMet’s proposal would violate the Endangered Species Act by destroying critical habitat for lynx and wolves, would fail to meet water quality standards, would violate wetlands laws, and is not allowed on the Superior National Forest,” said Marc Fink, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. “This mine, as proposed, is dead on arrival.”
The proposed mine would be the first copper mine permitted in the state. The proposed mine would destroy nearly 1,500 acres of designated critical habitat for the Canada lynx and gray wolf as well as more than 800 acres of high-quality wetlands, which would represent the largest recorded disturbance to wetlands in the region. And the mine would add massive amounts of tailings waste on top of the existing LTV tailings basin, which is already leaking and violating state water-quality standards.
The project is located near the headwaters of the Partridge and Embarrass river watersheds, tributaries of the St. Louis River that flows into Lake Superior. Many of the streams in the area and downstream are already designated by the state as impaired due to past and ongoing water pollution.
The Center for Biological Diversity, along with Save Lake Superior Association and the Indigenous Environmental Network, sent notice last week pursuant to the Clean Water Act that they intend to file suit to stop the ongoing pollution at the LTV site, which the groups maintain should be addressed before any new mines in the area are considered.
Read the Center For Biological Diversity's PolyMet NorthMet Project DEIS comments HERE
Minnesota Center For Environmental Advocacy - MCEA Press Release
Federal agency blasts PolyMet impact statement
Created by Administrator Account in 2/22/2010 10:11:07 PM
The Environmental Protection Agency said the proposed PolyMet mine impact statement was seriously flawed and the agency might delay the mining proposal.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency sharply criticized the draft environmental impact statement for the proposed PolyMet copper-nickel mine, agreeing with MCEA that the document is inadequate and also needs a specific financial assurance plan.
In its comments, dated Feb. 18, the agency also said that if the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, in particular, doesn't dramatically improve the environmental review, the EPA may very well take the issue to President Obama’s Council on Environmental Quality to resolve their differences.
“The EPA continues to identify the need to include financial assurance information in the environmental impact statement,” said Mary Marrow, MCEA staff attorney. “The failure of the PolyMet draft environmental impact statement to include this information is promising to cause delay from the potential involvement of the Council on Environmental Quality.
"A bill is currently under consideration by the Minnesota Legislature which would require financial assurance to be included as part of environmental review. By requiring financial assurance be included in the impact statement, delays which could result from the EPA referring this issue to the Council on Environmental Quality would be avoided.”
In its comments filed earlier this month, Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy stated that the draft impact statement was inadequate. Among those reasons were the fact that the mining operation would lead to more mercury in fish, environmental review did not indicate how badly contaminated water would be treated centuries after the mine closed nor did it evaluate the safety of a plan to store the mine’s most toxic wastes on top of potentially unstable iron ore tailings left over from LTV Mining Co.
The EPA concurred with much of what MCEA said and was even more forceful on the need for detailed information on financial assurance, the damage deposit the mining company must pay for possible future clean-up before they turn over a single shovelful of dirt.
In addition, the EPA was more critical about the polluted water that would flow from the mining site into the Lake Superior watershed, indicating that they thought it was likely to have a greater potential for acid mine drainage than the company had suggested.
From the beginning, PolyMet has reassured everyone that they had a new technology which would prevent acid mine drainage that for the past 75 years or more have killed rivers and lakes, as well as the fish and animals that depend on them wherever sulfide mining has occurred in the United States. The EPA called that into question.
“The project’s proposed operation and post-closure management plan for acid-generating waste rock and wastewater is inadequate and needs to be improved,” according to the EPA letter. “The proposed approaches to manage acid generation are untested or unproved at the proposed scale.”
Minnesota Center For Environmental Advocacy - MCEA Press Release
PolyMet mine fails exam,must improve to get permits
Created by Administrator Account in 2/3/2010 12:12:58 PM
PolyMet's draft environmental impact statement comes up short so it would be illegal for the government to grant them permits to mine copper and nickel in Minnesota.
The draft environmental impact statement for the proposed PolyMet copper-nickel mine failed to adequately address several major issues and until that work is done, it would be illegal for government agencies to issue permits to mine, the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy said in comments filed today.
“Minnesota’s citizens have been waiting for this environmental study for a long time and PolyMet tells us that it has cost a lot of money,” said MCEA Executive Director Scott Strand. “But unfortunately the study still leaves open a number of serious environmental issues that need to be addressed before this new type of mining can be allowed to get started here.”
Chief among those issues are a likely increase in mercury-contaminated fish. The study states that PolyMet’s operations will lead to increased sulfate pollution in surrounding waters and sulfates have been linked to the accumulation of methylmercury in fish. Methylmercury is a neurotoxin that is dangerous to people and wildlife who eat the fish, which is why the state annually publishes fishing advisories limiting fish consumption from some lakes and rivers. The impact statement needs to further study the risk downstream of Polymet and develop contingency plans to address the problem
The draft impact statement also noted that polluted water from the site will likely require treatment for decades, and probably centuries, after the mine closes. Yet, the study did not describe what water treatment technology will be used or how it would be paid for.
Other concerns and legal shortcomings MCEA and its experts found include:
• Toxic waste storage. No analysis was done on whether PolyMet’s plan to store its most toxic wastes on top of potentially unstable iron ore tailings in an old LTV basin is safe.
• Damage to endangered species. The study found PolyMet’s operations will damage critical habitat and wildlife corridors for endangered species such as the Canada lynx but failed to identify ways to reduce or prevent the damage.
• Greenhouse gas emissions. The study admits the mining operation will produce substantial new greenhouse gas emissions, but it needs to study alternatives such as renewable energy purchases.
• Financial assurance. The draft statement must include a detailed reclamation plan and provide a best estimate of the “damage deposit” PolyMet must provide to protect Minnesota’s taxpayers from having to pay for a clean-up that could exceed $100 million.
• Strip mining alternatives. No analysis was done of doing underground mining, rather than the proposed strip mine, despite an earlier letter from MCEA requesting that.
• Cumulative impacts on the environment. The statement cannot ignore the total environmental impact from PolyMet and the other proposed mining operations in the area, specifically the Teck Kominko, Duluth Metals, and Franconia Minerals projects.
“We certainly appreciate the work that went into the draft statement, but there is clearly more that has to be done,” Strand said. “Our experts have outlined a number of reasonable, doable steps to address the current problems with the environmental impact statement.
“But we have to put this in context. PolyMet is the first in a long list of new proposed mining operations in Minnesota. The hardrock mining industry has a very bad environmental track record, and there is a long history of problems being swept under the rug and environmental promises broken. Here in Minnesota, we have to get this first one right. We cannot run the risk of permanent damage to Minnesota’s environment, potential risks to human health or saddling Minnesota’s taxpayers with clean-up costs that must be the responsibility of the mining companies.”