Over the coming months, decisions will be made by state agencies to determine whether Polymet, potentially the first copper-nickel mine in Minnesota history, will receive permits to operate. While the debate of this new and riskier form of mining has been contentious, it has also been valuable for our state. Today, we are at an important moment to look back and see how far we have come.
In 2009, the first Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the Polymet project was published. The document, prepared by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR), was of such poor quality that the Environmental Protection Agency deemed it inadequate for failing to identify both potential risks and strategies to address those risks.
As Polymet and the DNR went back to the drawing board, Conservation Minnesota and several partners began work to make sure Minnesotans understood the differences between this new type of mining and traditional iron mining. As a result, tens of thousands of Minnesotans have been engaged in the process, asking important questions about water quality and taxpayer protections while expressing their opinions about the project.
Creating a truly statewide conversation has helped both Polymet and the DNR create a more thorough plan. Today, there are important improvements in Polymet’s proposal, such as:
- improved water treatment using reverse osmosis technology
- groundwater monitoring wells to detect potential contaminants
- construction of hydrological barriers to prevent water contamination
- improved stability of the tailings dam
- a more rigorous examination of financial risks to taxpayers
The metals that would be mined at Polymet are important to our high-tech economy, and also to clean energy infrastructure that is fueling economic growth in many parts of our state. At this point, it is still not clear if this type of mining can be done safely, if our waters will be clean, or if taxpayers will be sufficiently protected. But we are closer to “yes” on those key questions today because of the voices and shared stewardship values of Minnesotans who have spoken up from every corner of our state.
Conservation Minnesota will keep you informed as the process continues.