Might climate change usher in a new era of conservation in the Boundary Waters that will likely require us to…
Threatening Lake Superior and thousands of people who live downstream, the PolyMet copper-sulfide mine is a snowplow that would clear the way for future copper-sulfide mining near the Boundary Waters and in Minnesota.
Located near the Boundary Waters and within the Lake Superior watershed, PolyMet’s proposed copper-sulfide mine is one of the greatest threats to Minnesota’s clean water.
For almost two decades, ordinary people, citizen groups and local businesses have stood up to PolyMet. It has been a long, courageous effort that has involved vigilance, legal action, and perseverance.
PolyMet has continually tried to cut corners. It has repeatedly tried to get around environmental regulations and skirt the law to maximize profits for its shareholders.
Standing up to this copper-mining project owned by Glencore, a Swiss-based mining conglomerate that Forbes ranks as one of the 25 largest companies in the world, is no small task. But now, because of the dedication of so many people who are passionate about clean water, PolyMet cannot put a shovel in the ground.
Tracking the legal actions we have taken with our partners, along with all that goes into permitting such a project, can be complicated — especially after it’s been going on for 20 years. Here’s an overview of the project that will help you understand why so many have rallied behind the movement for clean water.
7 reasons to be alarmed by the PolyMet mine
1. Designed to pollute our clean water
According to PolyMet’s own estimates, the mine would release 16-million gallons of polluted water into the ground water each year. This would seep into the headwaters of the St. Louis River and flow downstream, contaminating the waters supply for the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, the city of Duluth and ultimately, Lake Superior.
2. A threat to Indigenous communities
After a federal court ruling, the EPA has concluded that PolyMet’s proposed destruction of the headwaters of the Partridge River would cause unacceptable violation of Fond du Lac’s tribal water quality standards. This led to the suspension of PolyMet’s wetlands destruction permit. Currently, the US Army Corps of Engineers is deciding if the permit violates the Band’s water quality standards for mercury pollution.
3. A dam problem
To cut costs, PolyMet Mining has proposed building a 250-foot tall dam to store 225 million tons of reactive mine waste. The same type of dam, designed by the same dam engineer, collapsed in Brumadinho Brazil, killing over 200 people. This type of dam construction has since been banned in Brazil. But for some reason this kind of risky engineering is safe enough for Minnesota?
3. A climate change disaster
High levels of CO2 emissions from PolyMet would exacerbate the global climate crisis. The proposed mine would also involve the largest permitted destruction of peat and marshland in Minnesota’s history, destroying one of the world’s most effective carbon sinks.
4. Corrupt owners
PolyMet Mining is controlled by the Glencore, a Swiss conglomerate with a long history of labor abuse, environmental degradation, bribery, corruption and unlawful actions. The United Steel Workers have called Glencore “one of the most irresponsible companies on the planet.”
5. Taxpayers pay for cleanup
PolyMet Mining has designed its financial assurance package in a way that allows their investors to be paid first, while leaving Minnesota taxpayers on the hook to pay to clean up the pollution.
6. Anti-Science and Collusion
Shortly after PolyMet received its final permit, it was revealed the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) along with higher ups at the EPA attempted to suppress concerns that the wastewater permit would allow PolyMet to violate the Clean Water Act.
7. A lousy permit
Despite the many red flags raised by scientists, engineers, financial experts and the public, Minnesota DNR issued the final state permit for PolyMet. A little over a year later the Minnesota Court of Appeals, threw out the Permit to Mine and two of the dam-safety permits, citing “serious, justifiable concerns.” One after another, PolyMet’s permits have been found to be seriously flawed. In 2023, the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, won an astonishing victory against PolyMet. Because the Band is considered a downstream state, with its own federally approved water quality standards, they sued on the grounds that PolyMet would violate their water quality standards. This led to the faulty wastewater permit being suspended. Courts have revoked several other dangerous, poorly reviewed permits.
In March, 2023, PolyMet formed a joint venture with the Canadian mining company Teck. This new entity is aiming to develop mining operations in both the Lake Superior and Boundary Waters watersheds.
Even after federal protections blocked other mining projects near the BWCA, this newly emerged mining venture shows that the region is still threatened by this toxic industry.
In addition to multiple lawsuits combatting PolyMet and Teck’s mega mine, Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness has introduced the Prove It First bill into the Minnesota legislature that would stop PolyMet and Twin Metals in its tracks.
This common-sense piece of legislation would require that before a copper-sulfide mine could be permitted in Minnesota, there must be independent proof that a similar mine has operated for at least ten years without causing pollution and that a mine has been closed for at least ten years without causing pollution.