The News Tribune’s April 21 editorial (Our View: “Don't apply mine permitting fixes mid-process”) was right to suggest that Congressman Pete Stauber is being hypocritical by calling for updated mining laws while frequently praising Minnesota’s environmental-review laws as among the strictest in the world. If we have such a good process, and he wants PolyMet and Twin Metals to “follow the process,” why is he calling for updated laws?
For environmentalists, there is the need for updating Minnesota’s permitting laws because we have a broken system that does not adequately protect Minnesota’s clean water from the threat of copper-sulfide mining, a risky type of mining that has never been done in Minnesota. Even one of the mines’ biggest supporters, Sen. Tom Bakk, admitted this when he confirmed to supporters that Minnesota’s mining-review process isn’t intended to stop dangerous projects from breaking ground.
If you need proof, look no further than the recent bombshell EPA Inspector General report. It blasted the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for allowing PolyMet’s wastewater permit to violate the Clean Water Act. The inspector general found that top officials at the EPA and MPCA concealed written warnings of an EPA scientist that PolyMet’s draft wastewater permit violated the Clean Water Act. The inspector general also found that the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency failed to address any of these Clean Water Act violations when issuing PolyMet’s final wastewater permit.
The report further found that the EPA violated the law by repeatedly denying the requests of the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa for an assessment of whether PolyMet would violate the water-quality standards of the Fond du Lac Reservation, which is located downstream from the proposed PolyMet copper-sulfide mine.
If that is not enough, consider PolyMet’s dam safety permit issued by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. This permit was issued despite the DNR’s own consultants calling its chance of success a “Hail Mary.” This criticism was due to PolyMet using an “upstream tailings dam,” which science has proven to be far more unstable than other waste-management options. This type of dam is so dangerous it is now banned in countries across the world. Yet, despite being responsible for a massive tragedy in Brumadinho, Brazil, PolyMet’s upstream dam was approved by the Minnesota DNR and would be practically all that is protecting Lake Superior from a massive environmental catastrophe.
These are just a few of the problems with the PolyMet permits. With all these red flags, it is no wonder PolyMet currently has four major permits suspended. If Minnesota’s environmental-review processes were adequate to protect our clean water, these permits would never have been issued.
Is it odd for Stauber to call for improvements to a process he usually worships? Of course. But environmental groups have been saying for years our review process is broken and must be updated. We have the evidence to prove it.
Foreign mining conglomerates should also have to prove they can operate without polluting Minnesota’s cleanest water. That is exactly what a presently proposed legislative prove-it-first bill calls for: independent scientific proof that even a single copper-sulfide mine operated without polluting. If mining supporters are so confident this can be done safely, they should have no problem proving it.
Scott Beauchamp of St. Paul is policy director for Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness (friends-bwca.org).