An Environmental Impact Statement is a lot like a home inspection said Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Tom Landwehr at a Friday news conference about the proposed PolyMet copper mine in Minnesota. It gives you information, but it doesn’t tell you whether to buy a home.
In Minnesota’s case, buying a home would mean issuing a series of permits, including one for mining allowing PolyMet to build and operate a mine it has been pursuing for about a decade. The decisions on that are still several months away.
Landwehr says the 3,576 page report (download here, but expect it to take time to load) concludes the proposed mine “meets all state standards” on the environment, but it still will have an environmental risk.
Environmentalists are skeptical of the claims PolyMet made to the DNR about it’s ability to prevent pollution.
Click here for summary of PolyMet environmental impact in easy to read table
Environmental groups will be rallying the public to oppose the mine during a mandatory public comment period that will be at least 30 days and could stretch into late December. Three agencies, the DNR, The Forest Service and the Army Corp of Engineers, will be taking public comments on the Environmental impact statement. During the DNR public comment period before the EIS was issued. 58,000 people responded and 98% were against building the mine according to Aaron Klemz, Communications Director for Friends of the Boundary Water Wilderness.
After that, the state will determine if the environmental study was adequate. Landwehr says it will “be a pretty high bar” for anyone to make the case the Environmental Impact Statement should be determined inadequate but it could be six to nine months for that process to be complete. Only after that would PolyMet be allowed to apply for permits including a mining permit.
Video of DNR press conference and reaction from environmentalists
Video above: Reaction from Friends of The Boundary Waters Communication Director Aaron Klemz and Staff Attorney Kathyrn Hoffman
Video below: Full news conference with DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr
Landwehr says “it is very premature” to assume the PolyMet project would go forward. Cost could be an issue for the company. The EIS says PolyMet will have to pay costs of potential environmental cleanup, but doesn’t specify what those costs are.
Opponents say those costs could be very high since the PolyMet mine would sit at the top of two major watersheds in Minnesota. Added to that is the cost of today’s study. PolyMet is already on the hook for the $20 million cost of the EIS, but has already reimbursed the state much of that.
Environmentalists also say the jobs from the mining will not number in the thousands as they did during the height of range mining in the 70s. Those jobs will also be fleeting compared to the years Minnesota will have to deal with the potential environmental consequences. PolyMet’s numbers supplied to the DNR says the mine would “create up to 500 direct jobs during peak construction and 360 direct jobs during operations.”
The mine would also generate tax revenue. Federal, state, and local taxes would total an estimated $80 million annually. The report says “during operations, there would be approximately $231 million per year in direct value added through wages and rents and $332 million per year in direct output related to the value of the extracted minerals. As with employment, these direct economic contributions would create indirect and induced contributions, estimated at $99 million in value added and $182 million in output.”
If PolyMet goes ahead and applies for permits, Governor Mark Dayton will be faced with a decision he has called the “most momentous, difficult and controversial decision I’ll make as governor.”
Dayton has visited a gold mine in South Dakota that is the poster child for how not to mine and protect the environment. He has also visited a more modern mine in Michigan which has built in many more environmental protections. After the visits Dayton did not say how he would ultimately decide. Even though Dayton will not run again for governor, the decision is a politically touchy one for his 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.