PolyMet Mining Truth

Copper-nickel mining, sometimes mischaracterized as sulfide mining, has been done safely.

It may be new to Minnesota, but the truth is, it’s not new to our region.

Minnesota needs only to look east to learn that copper-nickel mining can be done safely. The Flambeau Mine in Ladysmith, Wisconsin, produced copper, gold and silver while protecting the environment, including a river that flows just 140 feet from the site. The project is complete, the land has been restored, and water resources were protected.

  • Flambeau received the Wisconsin DNR’s Certificate of Completion for its closure plan in 2007, proving environmentally responsible non-ferrous mining is possible.
  • During the mining operation, all surface and pit water went into a treatment plant that successfully treated the water so it could be safely returned to the environment.
  • Closed in 1997, the site has been fully reclaimed and remains an ecologically healthy habitat and community resource visited by thousands of people each year.

From the Wisconsin DNR’s website:

“Throughout the life of the project, the company has remained in substantial compliance with all permit conditions and applicable standards.” 

“Monitoring of water quality and other characteristics in the Flambeau River similarly did not show any impacts from the effluent discharge.”

Despite its positive track record, the project continued to be challenged by anti-mining groups. Most recently, an appeals court ruled in favor of Flambeau, noting it fully complied with the Clean Water Act. This ruling reversed an earlier decision by a circuit court judge, who, despite her ruling, said the mine’s efforts deserved commendation, not penalties, and that the company seemed every bit as committed as the plaintiffs to protect the environment and preserve water quality. Read more.

We will protect Minnesota’s waters.

We will have a tested and reviewed plan that will keep Minnesota’s waters safe and clean. PolyMet has invested more than $60 million to create a plan that will meet rigorous environmental review and permitting requirements. The project:

  • Is designed to meet Minnesota’s water quality standards – including the wild rice standard.
  • Will reuse the Erie plant that began operations in the 1950s and leave the site cleaner than it is today.
  • Utilizes a process that removes contaminants, including sulfate, from water related to operations before it is discharged from the site.

What is reverse osmosis?

Reverse osmosis, or RO, is a proven, advanced water-purification method that removes contaminants from water using a semi-permeable membrane. It is used in the food and beverage industry, pharmaceuticals, manufacturing, and water treatment. Israel successfully produces safe and clean drinking water by treating water with RO at one of the largest desalination (salt-removing) plants in the world.

Reverse osmosis will work here and ensure PolyMet meets Minnesota standards.

PolyMet constructed a pilot plant and proved RO can successfully remove sulfate from more than 2 million gallons of water. These positive results prove the PolyMet project can meet Minnesota’s wild rice standard, along with all other applicable federal and state water quality standards. Because RO is sustainable and scalable, we can easily add more units to meet operational needs.

We have resources and plans in place to prepare for the unexpected.

Minnesota law requires PolyMet to set aside funds to make sure the site is properly closed, maintained and monitored. These safeguards:

  • Are designed to prevent potentially damaging conditions from occurring in the first place.
  • Include a plan to monitor environmental conditions for compliance and respond to unforeseen situations by initiating any necessary design changes.

We will protect taxpayers now and in the future.

PolyMet is solely responsible for paying for any work at the site before, during and after operations. Financial assurance means that PolyMet is required to set aside enough money to clean and restore the site, whether the project closes after one year of operation or 20 years from now. This is legally required before operations begin and continues until the DNR determines PolyMet has completed all required actions.

Minnesota law requires that PolyMet:

  • Plans for and financially guarantees closure and post-closure activities and corrective action before operations even begin.
  • Updates the plans annually to ensure sufficient funds are always available for reclamation, closure and post-closure activities.
  • Assures the funds are fully valid, binding and enforceable under state and federal law, not dischargeable through bankruptcy, and approved by the DNR Commissioner.

PolyMet will leave the site cleaner than it is now

We will leave the reclaimed facility cleaner and safer than we found it. We are working with state and federal regulators to create the right plan to protect the environment and natural resources long term, from groundbreaking to post closure.

  • PolyMet is legally responsible for the site until the DNR Commissioner says the site has been successfully reclaimed. That would be when:
    • All reclamation activities have been completed, according to the permit.
    • Conditions that would trigger any maintenance after closing no longer exist.
    • Corrective actions, if any, have been completed.

PolyMet’s plans will be required to be bankruptcy proof. We will have to file – and update yearly – a reclamation plan that includes procedures, cost estimates and financial mechanisms to ensure the money is there to pay for, among other things:

  • Remediation, including investigation and cleanup of contamination from former operations
  • Reclamation, including stabilization and revegetation of land surface
  • Relocation of stockpiles
  • Structure removal
  • Treatment of water
  • Closure and post-closure monitoring and maintenance
  • Administration and project management

Long-term care is standard practice not only in Minnesota, but also in other states, including Wisconsin, Alaska, Montana and Nevada. It guarantees facilities like mines and solid-waste landfills do not harm the environment after operations stop. Minnesota regulators are experienced in implementing and regulating long-term monitoring and maintenance plans.

Beyond the legal requirements, PolyMet is committed to being a good neighbor to area communities and a respected Minnesota company with a reputation for environmental stewardship.