PolyMet Mine: Climate Crisis Impacts

The PolyMet copper-nickel sulfide mine would destroy approximately 1,000 acres of wetlands and peatlands, and could destroy or degrade many thousands more as a result of drawdown of the water table and pollution caused by mining operations. According to a Minnesota Department of Natural Resource report, destruction of 1,000 acres of peatlands would increase Minnesota’s entire annual carbon footprint by 2%.

In PolyMet’s Final EIS mine plan, PolyMet admits that over 20 years it would produce 15.8 million tons of CO2 equivalent pollution – more than 10 million tons from burning fossil fuels. Comparing PolyMet’s annual impacts to a study done by the city of Duluth (including commercial, industrial, residential, transport, and waste), each year the PolyMet mine project would have about one-fourth the carbon footprint of the entire city of Duluth.

The copper-nickel ore body that PolyMet would mine is a low-grade ore body with less than 1% metals. Over 99% of the 533 million tons of rock that PolyMet would blast and dig out of the ground over 20 years would end up as mine waste.

Minnesota Can Make Better Choices

Copper and nickel can be recycled over and over and still retain their value. Recycling copper rather than mining and processing copper would save 90% of the fossil-fuel energy used by a mine project like PolyMet. If all the costs of mining are considered, it is cheaper to recycle copper than to mine for more.

The U.S. Geological Survey has estimated that the recycling rate of copper is only about one-third of the available supply, so there is a potential for increased recycling. Metal recycling is also job-intensive. The most recent economic impact report from the scrap recycling industry found that metals recycling created more than 106,000 direct and induced jobs and an economic impact of $55.48 billion.

Prioritizing recycling of metals and requiring that electronics be recycled would support modern technology without the wasteful and destructive costs of copper-nickel mining.

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