DNR issues permits for PolyMet mine in northeastern Minnesota

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources announced Thursday that it has issued permits for PolyMet’s proposed copper-nickel mine in northeastern Minnesota. 

The NorthMet project will create an open pit copper, nickel, cobalt and precious metals mine in the Hoyt Lakes-Babbit area.  

“Because this is the first copper-nickel mine in the state of Minnesota because people feel very passionate about it, I expect this to continue to get a great deal of scrutiny for the duration of the mine,” said Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Tom Landwehr.

Recognizing 14 years of arguments and review, Landwehr stood beside the piles of permits the DNR is now issuing for the NorthMet mining project. Those range from water appropriation permits to a permit for taking endangered species, specifically three types of plants.

The permit to mine includes a financial assurance plan and wetland replacement plan should at any point PolyMet fall out of compliance or walk away. To start, $74 million is already in the hands of the DNR through cash in a trust, letters of credit and bonds.

“At the peak of mining, we will have more than a billion dollars in financial assurance that the state can access at any time without any court proceeding to close, clean up and do the long-term monitoring on that project,” said Landwehr.

Aaron Klemz, representing the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, has two of several lawsuits against the project currently in the court of appeals.

“The DNR failed Minnesotans today,” said Klemz.

He points to a variety of environmental concerns surrounding copper-nickel mining on 6,000 acres of wetlands at the headwaters of the St. Louis River and worries this is a bait-and-switch by PolyMet with possibly a bigger project in mind.

“We know from their own documents it will probably be hundreds of years before the pollution on this site goes away and there is very little precedent for a company being around hundreds of years afterward to clean up its own mess,” said Klemz.

Commissioner Landwehr says the permits apply to the project as proposed.

“Everything we do as humans has an impact on the environment,” he said. “I think the incumbent thing to do, we hold the state, we hold the project company to the regulations in state law.”

The project still requires water and air quality permits from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and a wetlands permit from the Army Corps of Engineers in order to proceed.