Major federal and state projects with the potential for significant environmental impacts undergo a process of environmental review, which is intended to analyze the effects of the project and develop alternatives, including the alternative of “no action,” which avoid, minimize and/or mitigate the impacts of the proposed project.
PRELIMINARY FINAL POLYMET ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT STATEMENT (PFEIS)
The Preliminary Final Environmental Impact Statement on PolyMet has been released by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources for review and comment by state, federal and tribal agencies. This is the last step before releasing the Final Environmental Impact Statement, which will likely happen in the fall and be followed by a public comment period. Even though the PFEIS is not up for public comment yet, you can view the document here in its entirety (182MB).
FINAL POLYMET ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT STATEMENT (FEIS)
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) has released the State’s timetable (view it here) for the PolyMet sulfide mine Final Environmental Impact Statement (Final EIS).
The MDNR now says the PolyMet Final EIS will be published in November 2015.
There will then be a 30-day comment period for citizens to let Minnesota state agencies know what they think of the final PolyMet sulfide mine plan.
Additional Timing and Process: November 2015 to February 2016
Minnesota state agency (MDNR) decides if Final EIS for the PolyMet sulfide mine is “adequate.”
U.S. Forest Service decides whether to approve the Land Exchange for the PolyMet sulfide mine.
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proceed with decisions on whether to approve PolyMet wetlands destruction to permit project to move forward. (Note: this process also includes State certification that the PolyMet project won’t violate water quality standards and may involve analysis of impacts on downstream tribal waters)
Minnesota is also likely to begin the process of considering air pollution and water pollution permits as well as the MDNR permit to mine early in 2016.
ONGOING REVIEW OF ENVIRONMENTAL DOCUMENTS
From 2010 through 2013, thousands of pages of technical documents were produced by the PolyMet Mining Company and their consultants. WaterLegacy continued to analyze both proposed changes to the PolyMet project and the assumptions and models used to predict water pollution and wetlands destruction resulting from the proposed open pit sulfide mine.
For example, in February 2012, WaterLegacy supplied a detailed brief to responsible and cooperating agencies raising concerns about faulty assumptions and lack of adequate data for statistical modeling in review of the project’s potential water impacts. WaterLegacy cautioned that mining company assumptions about environmental harms “are designed to hide the truth, not find the truth.” See StarTribune on reasons for PolyMet delay.
POLYMET SUPPLEMENTAL DRAFT ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT STATEMENT (SDEIS) (December 2013)
Lead Agencies released a Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement (SDEIS) on the PolyMet NorthMet project for public comment in December, 2013 for public comment.
WaterLegacy worked with allies, conducted workshops and public outreach and mobilized members and supporters. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has reported that over 58,000 comments were submitted on the PolyMet SDEIS, a new record far surpassing the previous record of over 3,800 comments on the DEIS in 2010.
- Read Comments of WaterLegacy, Experts and Exhibits on PolyMet’s SDEIS
- Read Comments of Agencies and Organizations on PolyMet’s SDEIS
- Review the complete PolyMet SDEIS on the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources web site.
Lead & Cooperating Agencies
The Lead Agencies responsible for the preparation of the PolyMet environmental documents are the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (MDNR), the United States Army Corps of Engineers (Army Corps) and the United States Forest Service (USFS). The MDNR is a Lead Agency for the PolyMet environmental review process, since the MDNR is responsible for deciding whether or not the PolyMet project should be granted a State Permit to Mine. The Army Corps is a Lead Agency since the Army Corps is responsible for deciding whether or not the PolyMet project should be granted a federal Clean Water Act Section 404 permit to allow destruction of wetlands at both the proposed mine site and the tailings storage site. The USFS is a Lead Agency since the USFS is responsible for deciding whether or not the land on which PolyMet proposes to excavate its open pit mine should be transferred from federal public land in the Superior National Forest to PolyMet.
- Read more about the PolyMet Land Exchange and the role of the United States Forest Service.
- Read more about the Clean Water Act and the role of the United States Army Corps of Engineers, as well as potential authority of other federal, state and tribal agencies.
Although much of the research for the environmental review process is provided by the PolyMet Mining Company and its consultants, by law the state and federal agencies are responsible for the content of all environmental review documents. The law requires both state and federal Lead Agencies to take a “hard look” and information provided by PolyMet and make independent judgments about the project and its impacts.
For the PolyMet NorthMet project, Minnesota tribal governments (the Fond du Lac, Grand Portage and Bois Forte Bands of the Lake Superior Chippewa) and the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are Cooperating Agencies. The term “Cooperating Agencies” does not mean that these additional agencies agree with the Lead Agencies; in fact, they may disagree with Lead Agency conclusions. However, under various laws, including the Clean Water Act, the EPA and the Bands may have authority over various aspects of the PolyMet project, as may other state and federal agencies.
POLYMET DRAFT ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT STATEMENT (October 2009)
The Lead Agencies — Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) and United States Army Corps of Engineers (Army Corps) released a Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the PolyMet NorthMet Project in October 2009. The United States Forest Service (USFS) was joined as a Lead Agency in order to include analysis of the Land Exchange [link] in future environmental review.
The PolyMet NorthMet Draft EIS is available in the MDNR Archives.
WaterLegacy Comments on the PolyMet Draft EIS (DEIS)
WaterLegacy worked in collaboration with the Minnesota Environmental Partnership and many environmental allies to reach out to members, coach and facilitate citizen comments on the PolyMet Draft EIS.
Over 3,700 public comments were received on the PolyMet NorthMet Draft EIS. More than three-fourths of them were highly critical.
Agency Comments on the PolyMet Draft EIS (DEIS)
Comments of Cooperating Agencies on the PolyMet DEIS were highly critical of the study and the proposed project.
The United States Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) gave the PolyMet DEIS a rare failing grade:
“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 the EPA believes the proposed action must not proceed as proposed.”
- Read Commentary in the Star Tribune, PolyMet mine can’t proceed as proposed, on EPA Assessment of PolyMet by Paula Maccabee, Counsel for WaterLegacy and Nancy Schuldt, Water Projects Coordinator for the Fond du Lac Band.
- U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Comments (U.S. Department of Interior) raised concerns about federally threatened and endangered species.
- Tribal comments on the DEIS
Tribal Agency Comment Letter detailing extensive flaws and gaps in the DEIS.
Tribal cooperating agencies also provided detailed page by page comments on the text of the Draft EIS, which are contained in its Appendix D. Among other critical issues, tribal staff have highlighted likely direct and indirect impacts on wetlands as a result of the PolyMet open pit Mine — read GLIFWC Wetlands Impact Illustration and impacts on moose.