Environmentalists are bracing for the worst next month when Minnesota’s Department of Natural Resources will release its final Environmental Impact Statement on the proposed PolyMet copper mine in northern Minnesota.
“If we don’t say it now, they will try to ram it through,” says Aaron Klemz, Communications Director for Friends of the Boundary Water Wilderness which organized a #StopPolyMet rally on Tuesday. Klemz says despite public opinion being against the mine, environmentalists are “swimming upstream” because the DNR is pushing the proposal.
Klemz says 58,000 people responded during the DNR’s public comment period and 98% were against building the mine.
Environmentalists are against the mine because there is no guarantee that runoff from the mine won’t leach into the water. Klemz says Minnesota is at the “top of the hill” for three major watersheds in North America and the proposed site for the PolyMet mine sits on two of those watersheds.
“Why in the world are thinking of threatening our water?” said an environmental activist who rode her bike to the rally. “It’s never been done safely.”
Klemz also says the economic impact of the mine will not be anything like the mining of old that employed thousands of people. PolyMet says the mine will create 350 permanent jobs. The plant that PolyMet will reuse to support the mine used to employ 3,000 people in 1971. “The mining industry has changed,”says Klemz. “It’s automating and its requiring less and less labor each year. This is not the way to build a sustainable economy in northeastern Minnesota.”
Governor Dayton Undecided
Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton has yet to make his opinion known on the project, preferring to wait until all the data for the Environmental Impact Statement is in. It’s a touchy subject politically for Dayton’s Democratic Farmer Labor party. Unions would very much like to see the mine built because of the jobs it promises. Environmentalists, who also make up a significant part of the DFL, would like to see it stopped.
“I’ve got a lot of questions. … This will be the most momentous, difficult and controversial decision I’ll make as governor,” Dayton told the Duluth News Tribune in August.
To help in his decision, Dayton has scheduled visits to two mines — one that was recommended by mining supporters and one that was recommended by environmentalists. He will visit Gilt Edge Mine in South Dakota on Tuesday, October 27th, and Eagle Mine in Michigan on Friday, October 30th.
Dayton may have some time to make decision.
Three agencies, the DNR, The Forest Service and the Army Corp of Engineers, will be taking public comments on the Environmental impact statement. The public comment period will be at least 30 days and could stretch into late December. After that, the state will have until February to determine if the environmental study was adequate. If it is, PolyMet would need to apply for permits including a mining permit. DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr, who is a Dayton appointee, would decide on issuing the permit. Presumably Landwehr would take his boss’ opinion into consideration.