Teck & PolyMet’s Lake Superior-Boundary Waters Mega Mine


In the middle of the summer, we received news that PolyMet, the shell corporation for the Swiss- based mining and commodities giant Glencore, announced an agreement to form a joint venture with Teck, a Canadian-owned mining corporation that has been actively exploring an ore body about a mile away from the proposed PolyMet mining site.

While working to protect Lake Superior from PolyMet and the Boundary Waters from Twin Metals, we’ve also been watching Teck’s activities for the past several years with increasing alarm.

Though this joint venture has not yet been finalized, it signals that these international mining companies, PolyMet and Teck, intend to pool their resources together to operate a single mega-mine that would straddle two watersheds. This would directly pollute both the Boundary Waters and Lake Superior, two of the most iconic systems of fresh water in the country.

Photo courtesy Wikimedia commons

What is Teck and why do they want to mine near the BWCA?

Teck is a Canadian mining company with large stakes in the fossil fuel industry. It is one of three joint owners of Fort Hills, a $17 billion dollar oil mine in the notorious Alberta Tar Sands. Nearly the size of Florida, the industrial extraction of crude oil from the Alberta Tar Sands is a major contributor to the global climate crisis.

Teck also operates coal mines. In 2021, the mining company pled guilty to charges related to discharging pollution into the Elk Valley in British Columbia. It was fined $60 million by the Canadian government for allowing untreated, contaminated water to flow through waste rock into the water system, affecting fish, wildlife and First Nations people who make their home in the area. Steep though the fine may seem, many believe it is a mere slap on the hand, considering the billions of dollars worth of coal the company extracts from the valley.

Across the border from these mines, Teck’s lobbyists are currently trying to roll back Montana’s clean water standards. This effort to weaken environmental protections would make it easier, and more profitable, for its coal operations to pollute.

These actions give us a preview of how Teck would operate in Minnesota. Considering its record to undermine clean water protections, its involvement with the fossil fuel industry, it’s ironic that Teck is trying to rebrand itself as a “green metals” company by investing more in copper-nickel mining projects.

Photo courtesy Benjamin Olson

What about PolyMet’s permits?

It is very likely that, in a matter of weeks, the U.S. Forest Service will announce a twenty-year moratorium on sulfide mining on federal lands within the Rainy River watershed.

Unfortunately, though Teck is seeking to develop an ore body within this watershed, it is exploring state and privately held lands, which would not be covered by the moratorium.

PolyMet, on the other hand, cannot put a shovel in the ground. Though the mine was rushed through, poorly reviewed, and permitted, the courts have since thrown out its permit to mine, as well as other key permits it needs to operate.

The problems with PolyMet are so major that the EPA has stated that, under the current mining plan, it may be impossible for PolyMet to ever comply with clean water standards and open.

This leads to many questions, namely, what is the advantage of this joint venture? Will there be a Lake Superior-Boundary Waters mega-mine in the near future?

Like what will happen in your favorite TV show, it’s easy to speculate on what might be next.

We cannot pretend we know all the answers. We’ve convened a working group that will consult with legal, financial and industry experts to better understand just what Teck and PolyMet are up to, and how we can get ahead of them to better protect Lake Superior and the Boundary Waters.

It’s likely the two mining companies are playing the long game. While politicians have two-year cycles, mining companies look ahead decades.

They’re hoping this will be an advantage.

But people have been fighting to protect the Boundary Waters for over a century, and Friends of the Boundary Waters has been around for almost fifty years. Our members and supporters know how to think far into the future.

The waterway near the proposed PolyMet mining site. Photo: Rob Levine

And we’ve been successful.

Despite facing strong political winds and all the undue influence powerful, international mining conglomerates can muster, we have stopped two toxic mining projects from breaking ground. We have defended our clean water, and will continue to do so.

The possibility of a Lake Superior-Boundary Waters Mega Mine is alarming. You can be certain that, with your help, we will continue to win, and stand up for the wilderness, clean water, and all that makes this region such a national treasure.

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