Better In Our Back Yard’s Statement on PolyMet Permit News

PolyMet just took another huge step toward changing the future of Northern Minnesota. After thorough scientific review, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) issued PolyMet with water and air quality permits today and certified the company’s pending Section 404 Permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps), a requirement of the Clean Water Act. This decision is great news for our state, as the NorthMet Project stands to create hundreds of good-paying jobs for hardworking Minnesotans.

This decision means PolyMet has one major permit left to receive. The company is awaiting a decision from the Corps regarding wetland mitigation, compensation and reclamation, as well as additional local permits and approvals.

PolyMet continues to set the global standard for responsible mining. Better In Our Back Yard is proud to have PolyMet in Minnesota because we know we can do it here – better – in our backyard.

 

For additional comment, contact Kurt Doran, Better In Our Back Yard Chair.

PolyMet Mining Permit Granted – Good News for Minnesota

Change is in the air, Minnesota. Can you feel it? It’s more than just the inevitability of winter. With the DNR’s recent decision to grant PolyMet with a Permit to Mine and all subsequent DNR permits, we are one step closer to opening the state’s first copper-nickel mine. At Better In Our Back Yard, we are excited for what this means for our state and for those who live and work on the Iron Range.

Firstly, it means years of hard work and dedication are finally paying off. The PolyMet team has worked tirelessly for over a decade to get this right. There were late nights of pouring over details and long hours in the office planning and preparing hundreds of thousands of document pages for the DNR and their independent contractors to review and analyze. When aspects of the project were questioned or challenged, the team dove back in to reevaluate and make sure everything would meet or exceed Minnesota’s strict standards. The PolyMet team has proven that the NorthMet Project will operate safely while protecting human health and Minnesota’s environment.

Secondly, the DNR’s decision to issue a Permit to Mine means good-paying jobs are on the horizon. The NorthMet Project will bring 360 mining jobs to local communities and will support over a thousand jobs in related industries. The construction required to begin operations requires two million hours of work, and the NorthMet Project itself is expected to be in operation for a minimum of two decades. These jobs are essential for continuing the way of life on the Iron Range and will aid in revitalizing cities that have been struggling for many years.

Lastly, this monumental decision means the opportunity to show the world how to operate a non-ferrous copper-nickel and precious metals mining project both safely and responsibly is upon us. Countless hours were spent ensuring the environmental impact of this project will be minimized, and every inch of impacted land will be mitigated and reclaimed and left better than when the project started. PolyMet takes their responsibility seriously when it comes to protecting and managing water, minimizing land disturbance and preserving wetland areas.

Congratulations, PolyMet. We’re behind you, and we’re looking forward to the next steps in the process. The whole world is watching. It’s time to mine.

Mineral Exploration Can Coexist with the Boundary Waters Canoe Area

The U.S. Forest Service has lifted a ban on mineral exploration in the Superior National Forest, south of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW). This is great news for the industries and communities of the Iron Range, but is this the beginning of the end of the beautiful, pristine (not to mention, federally protected) BWCAW?

Absolutely not.

To set the record straight, mineral exploration and extraction activities are specifically prohibited not only within the wilderness area boundaries, but also outside of the wilderness in a 222,000-acre area known as the BWCAW Mining Protection Area. This buffer exists to protect the natural and ecological value of the wilderness from the potential impacts from mining. This was enacted through federal legislation in 1978 and is not being challenged at any level. All exploration activity has occurred outside of the wilderness area and the mining protection area.

Furthermore, we know it is possible for mineral exploration and potential extraction to coexist with efforts to protect the wilderness areas that make northern Minnesota so unique. In fact, studies show industry and tourism can work together to provide more opportunities in the future.

A mine project is not going to put a stop on tourism to the region; it likely won’t slow tourism at all. History is on our side here. We’ve mined in the region for 130 years while also becoming a popular tourist destination with world-class fishing and water resources. Current iron mining operations provide thousands of high-paying jobs, which in turn support thousands of jobs in supporting industries like hospitality, retail, healthcare, professional services and, of course, tourism.

The economic boost provided by iron mining – and potential future types of mining – creates opportunities for other industries to thrive. Some have cautioned against a potential boom-bust cycle, but with careful planning and strategic development, Iron Range communities have the opportunity to develop sustainable operations to ensure long-term benefits even after a mining project concludes. Why not take advantage of a thriving economy to strengthen other industries for the future?

The BWCAW will continue to be protected while mineral exploration in the Superior National Forest commences. It will continue to be protected if and when PolyMet opens the NorthMet Project. It will continue to be protected if and when Twin Metals opens, too. None of these proposed projects are within the BWCAW, and they will go above and beyond to be sure the BWCAW retains the natural and wild character that has made it our nation’s most popular wilderness destination, as well as a source of some of the cleanest water on the planet.

Mining companies in northern Minnesota must undergo an extensive environmental review process before they can even begin to start applying for permits to mine. PolyMet navigated the environmental review process for over a decade, proving with exhaustive research, engineering, and documentation that the company can and will adhere to strict environmental regulations. Twin Metals and any other proposed mining operation will undergo the same process long before any actual extraction begins. The recent lifting of the mineral withdrawal ban has not changed the environmental review process in any way.

The only way a new mining operation will open on the Iron Range is if it proves it can operate safely and responsibly. That means protecting people, communities, and the environment. When the public raised concerns about PolyMet’s proposal to use an existing tailings basin for long-term storage, the company went back to the drawing board and detailed an enhanced plan that reinforced tailings dam stability.

Nobody wants to risk our environment for short-term gains. Instead, as proponents of responsible industry, we seek to help protect our global environment by extracting the minerals we need for a greener and more sustainable future–right here, in our backyard, where we can extract minerals safer and more responsibly than anywhere else in the world.

Make an Impact with Move Mining

As northern Minnesotans, we understand the value and impact that mining has on our region and the world. Natural resources fuel the lives and livelihoods of not only the people who retrieve them from the Earth, but also of those who use the finished products. While we recognize the importance of mining, some community members still struggle to maintain a positive outlook on industry.

Do you have a big idea that could help to change the negative perception of mining? Now’s your chance to share it, and you could win $5,000! Move Mining is an event with the goal of promoting the power of mining and educating people worldwide about this industry that impacts every aspect of our lives. An online competition that leads to a Shark Tank-style event, Move Mining gives each participant the chance to get creative, work with a team and make a big change.

Every person reading this post has talents or skills that would be beneficial to a team. By combining the knowledge and background of friends, coworkers and mining professionals, teams of up to six people ages 10 and older, are able to conceive and execute concepts that will make a global and lasting impact.

How does this happen? It all comes down to an idea. Brainstorm with your team to come up with a concept that has potential to show people the importance of mining and the positive impact it has on the world. Once you have a clear understanding and vision of your concept, create a promotional, three-minute long video summarizing your big idea. Videos must be submitted online by October 14, 2018. After video submissions, the top five finalist teams are invited to present their ideas at the Shark Tank-style Move Mining event at the SME Annual Conference and Expo on February 25, 2019 in Denver, Colorado.

The first place winner after the Move Mining event will win $5,000 and will receive personalized advice from a leader in their field of innovation, facilitated by the SME Director of Marketing and Communications, on how to make their concept become a reality.

Are you interested in participating in the Move Mining competition? Learn more here: http://movemining.org/

Supporting Clean Water AND the Repeal of the Wild Rice Standard

Clean water is a shared value of all Minnesotans. Our 10,000 lakes are a reason many of us live here. They’re a point of pride, providing beauty and recreation as well as a key cultural resource for our Native American brothers and sisters.

That’s why at first glance, news articles about eliminating a standard meant to protect wild rice can be eyebrow raising to say the least. Why would anyone introduce legislation to remove a wild rice standard, let alone support that legislation? The reason is because the standard doesn’t actually protect wild rice.

The current wild rice standard limits sulfate in the water to 10 mg/L. “Current” is an oxymoron when it comes to this standard, because it is decades old and based on even older information. The standard is not based on modern science. Instead, it is based largely on field observations from the 1940s. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s own modern-day research, conducted by the University of Minnesota, found no impact to wild rice seedlings until sulfate levels reached at least 1,600 mg/L – 160 times the current limit. What’s more, the science behind the standard fails to take into account some of the largest threats to wild rice, including water elevation and invasive species.

This standard is the only one of its kind in the United States. No other state that grows wild rice has a standard like this, and no Minnesota legislators ever reviewed or voted on this standard. Instead, it was created when Minnesota created the Pollution Control Agency and then adopted (by default) the federal Clean Water Act in the 1970s. It was largely forgotten soon thereafter. In fact, the standard has never been enforced, though wild rice continues to grow in Minnesota.

Wild rice was hardly a point of contention in Minnesota until 10 years ago when anti-industry groups dusted off the never-enforced standard to fight proposed copper nickel mines in Minnesota. The thing is, the proposed copper nickel mines have planned to build water treatment facilities to comply with the 10 mg/L standard. At this point, after all this debate, it’s not even proven that wild rice is affected by the enforcement of the standard. Instead, it is our 130-year-old iron mining industry and our communities’ wastewater treatment facilities – and in turn our wastewater treatment bills – that are most affected by the enforcement of this obsolete standard.

Estimates by businesses and municipalities across the state show the cost to comply with the outdated wild rice standard could be billions of dollars. This is a dollar amount that could close plants and cause our wastewater bills to increase by up to 200% in some communities – all for a standard not yet proven to protect wild rice habitat in Minnesota.

We know that environmental activists and supporters of responsible Minnesota industry all want to protect wild rice. As supporters of responsible industry, we are also supporters of sensible regulations that are feasible, based on sound science, and actually protect the environment. However, this particular regulation is anything but common sense. Though likely well intentioned, it is neither feasible nor is it based on sound science, and there is still no proof it does anything to protect or enhance the wild rice habitat in Minnesota.

These are the reasons that Better In Our Back Yard applauds the recent action taken by both the House and Senate to pass legislation removing the current wild rice sulfate standard. This removal makes way for Minnesota to go back to the drawing board and explore all the mitigating factors that affect our wild rice habitat – to make sure we use the most current and best scientific technology we have at our disposal, so our clean water and important state grain remain not only sources of food and culture but sources of pride for generations of Minnesotans to come.

With this in mind, we urge Governor Mark Dayton to sign this legislation into law, and we encourage you to send a letter supporting his signature.

Write him at: 130 State Capitol, 75 Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd, St. Paul, MN 55155

Email him at: https://mn.gov/governor/contact-us/form/

Call him at: 651-201-3400 or 1-800-657-3717

Fax him at: 651-797-1850

Tweet him at: @govmarkdayton

 

Mining Innovation at the 2018 SME Annual Conference & Expo

When people think about “innovation,” they usually think of the tech companies on the West Coast with their apps and their gadgets. They don’t usually think about the mining companies. Instead, people often think that miners are out with pickaxes and shovels digging up ore and panning for gold –  and frankly, shows like “Gold Rush” have not helped our industry with those perceptions.

In reality, mining is a high-tech industry that requires innovation in several operational aspects – from water treatment to ore processing to dispatch systems and beyond. The mining sector craves the opportunity to optimize processes and controls to maintain a predictable quality of product while remaining profitable on the market. How does the industry progress? How do we learn about innovative technologies that are being used halfway around the world? Where do we see the latest and greatest equipment that has the potential to change the way we operate?

The 2018 Society for Mining, Metallurgy & Exploration (SME) Annual Conference and Expo, that’s where.

This year’s conference was in OUR backyard for the very first time – held in Minneapolis during the last week of February.

Innovation was evident with technical sessions and short courses that focused on recent research, progressive technologies and the social aspects of mining. Mining is a way of life in northeast Minnesota as well as in many countries around the world. Just like at home, many communities thrive due to mining. However, there are pockets of the world with valuable mineral resources where these minerals are extracted without regulation. These instances are key opportunities for well-established mining companies to make a significant difference in the lives of the people in the region.

A Closer Look at Illegal Gold Mining in Ghana

Ghana is a perfect example of an area that would benefit from the expertise of a legitimate mining company. As presented in a technical session (one of more than 600 sessions), a practice called “galamsey” (the illegal gathering and selling of gold) commonly occurs in Ghana. Gold mining may be illegal, but many still mine because it is a way to make a living and support their families. Heartbreakingly, this work is unregulated, dangerous and an ecological disaster in the making. Rivers and streams are becoming polluted with mercury (used to extract the gold from the ore) and sediment. The lack of regulations has caused mercury poisoning and led to dangerous working conditions. Although much work is being done to combat this issue, there is a long way to go. Mining companies working in conjunction with government officials will be key drivers in helping bring these illegal practices to an end.

This particular technical session was a great reminder of where we were as a country more than 45 years ago when the Clean Water Act was passed in the United States. It was also a good indicator of the positive influence an established mining company can bring to a mining project.

Strict Regulations Make Mining in Minnesota Strong and Sustainable

In the Land of 10,000 Lakes (and then some), our state has chosen to take environmental rules a step further, having some of the most progressive water quality standards in the nation. We have also supported successful mining operations for more than 130 years. These operations continue to advance by leaps and bounds with modern technologies that keep our process running in a safe and environmentally-conscious manner.

There is an energy and motivation that comes from being surrounded by more than 5,500 miners, suppliers, educators and regulators who are all engaged in ensuring that our industry progresses responsibly and sustainably. The 2018 SME Conference & Expo allowed attendees to recognize that we are part of a larger community who all have the same end goal – innovation, wise use of technology and a sustainable future for both the industry and the communities that support mining.

National Mining Conference Coming to Our Back Yard

Thousands of mining professionals and students from around the world will be convening in Minneapolis this week for the National Society for Mining, Metallurgy & Exploration (SME) Conference.

The conference taking place from February 25 to 28, largely at the Minneapolis Convention Center, features an exhibit hall with more than 700 booths, more than 100 technical sessions, a symposium on North American iron ore and many other events. This is the first time this conference is being held in Minneapolis – what a great opportunity  to have right in our back yard.

Attendees come from a range of backgrounds including: metal mining, manufacturing, geology, environmental, construction, and more. All told, 49 U.S. states and 35 countries will be represented at the conference.

The conference theme, “Vision, Innovation and Identity: Step Change for a Sustainable Future,” will address the continuing need for innovation throughout the industry.

The theme and location provide a unique opportunity to showcase the past, present, and future of Minnesota’s 130+ year iron mining industry, as well as the potential for different types of mining – including, of course, copper nickel mining. Representatives from iron mining and copper nickel mining will be staffing booths, teaching technical sessions, and hosting events.

Some key Minnesota-backed events include:

  • Northern Minnesota SME Curling Reception
  • Northern Minnesota Field Trip – including tours and/or presentations of Hibbing Taconite, PolyMet, Minnesota Discovery Center, Duluth Port Authority and more
  • Move Mining Event: Move Mining is a program that stems from the idea to change or “move” the perception of mining in the public eye by encouraging individuals and teams to use their innovation and ideas, with the support of our sponsoring organizations, to share their positive messaging about mining with the world
  • Mining and Exploration Luncheon, sponsored by the Iron Mining Association of Minnesota (IMA)
  • Friends of Minnesota Reception, sponsored by Mining Minnesota, IMA, and SME’s Minnesota Chapter

Those who work in Minnesota’s mining industries have a wealth of knowledge to share on operating in a sustainable way. Minnesota has some of the strongest environmental regulations in the nation – maybe the world. Former Minnesota iron mines are now used as sources of drinking water for Iron Range cities as well as swimming and fishing lakes, and other recreation sites.

There is always more to learn, so Minnesota participants are looking forward to technical sessions, short courses, and field trips focused on environment, health and safety, energy, mineral processing, finance, and more.

To learn more about the upcoming national conference, visit http://www.smeannualconference.com or Move Mining visit http://www.movemining.org/ .

Financial Responsibility Requirements

On December 1, 2017, the EPA Administrator signed the final rule for Financial Responsibility Requirements under Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA) 108(B) for Classes of Facilities in the Hardrock Mining Industry. In effect, this final rule said that there was no need for financial assurance requirements to be placed on hard rock mining companies by the federal government. The next day, most mainstream news coverage positioned the story in a way that would lead readers to believe that mining companies were not being held financially responsible for their operations or the clean-up in the event that they went bankrupt.

Fortunately, that is not the case and a deeper read into the final rule illustrates that the EPA acted judiciously in their decision and are not placing taxpayers at risk. Unfortunately, that is not the story that was shared with the general public so we’d like to share our assessment of the rule with you.

As you may have noted, this final rule came out over a month ago, so why is Better In Our Back Yard just now posting our thoughts? The main reason is that we know it takes time to review information and process it and we want to give our readers carefully thought-out responses. The final rule, in pre-published form, is 120 pages and that doesn’t even include the Technical Support. Too often in our media-driven, fast news world, we live on headlines and sound bites and we trust what we read without doing any of our own research. We owe it to you to be more nuanced and studious in our approach because we know that in finding the balance between environmental protection and economic development, a sound bite isn’t enough.

So why didn’t the EPA mandate financial assurance requirements for hard rock mining as was initially proposed? There were several drivers for that decision, so let’s take a look at a few critical ones.

Purpose of CERCLA 108(b)

The intended purpose of CERCLA regulations, also known as Superfund, is to protect taxpayers from having to clean up environmental impacts from a wide variety of industries. The rule was enacted after the public was left in a position cleaning up sites such as Love Canal. CERCLA regulations require facilities to “establish and maintain evidence of financial responsibility consistent with the degree and duration of risk associated with the production, transportation, treatment, storage or disposal of hazardous substances.” This statement of purpose is reiterated multiple times throughout the final rule because it is the level of risk that is critical to the conclusion reached by the EPA.

The EPA states that after review of existing federal and state regulatory programs as well as the mining practices at modern mines that that there is limited risk of unfunded response liabilities at currently operating facilities.

Regulatory Redundancy

The reason that there is limited risk of unfunded response liabilities is because state governments as well as federal agencies that regulate mining, including the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management, have set up their own systems to regulate mining operations and ensure financial assurance requirements are met within their jurisdictions. Several states and the listed federal agencies were not in support of this regulation because it muddied the waters on the enforcement of their respective programs. The states with mining operations within them have spent decades fine-tuning their programs to reflect their distinct situations regarding type of mineral extraction and environmental settings. They are uniquely qualified to understand the risks and mitigation strategies. The EPA recognized that additional federal regulations would disrupt these state programs (as well as the other federal programs) and cause unnecessary duplication that would not provide taxpayers with any additional protection.

Lack of Financial Instruments

The financial industry that would provide the required financial instruments and services was not in support of the regulations because, as proposed, they would be at odds with relevant commercial law and practice.

So where does this leave financial assurance in Minnesota? It leaves it with the State of Minnesota Department of Natural Resources that knows our backyard, that cares about our backyard and that will ensure our taxpayers are not put in a position of being responsible for environmental mitigation in our backyard.

Current Climate

Look no further than the proposed PolyMet financial assurance estimate, which could top $1 billion, that recently came from the state to know that mining companies are already held to strong standards that ensure taxpayer risk is factored into the equation. Because we can do it better, in our back yard.

Better in Our Back Yard Statement on Release of Draft Permit to Mine

Better In Our Back Yard released the following statement today in response to the DNR’s release of PolyMet’s draft Permit to Mine.

The release of PolyMet’s draft Permit to Mine, along with the DNR’s draft decision to allow construction and operations, is promising news for the future of northeastern Minnesota’s people and economy. The PolyMet project will provide hundreds of family-supporting jobs and usher in a new era of mining, economic growth and hope for our region.

We’re thrilled the science says this project can be done safely. We trust the modern mining practices and technologies that will be used, coupled with oversight from trusted regulatory agencies like the DNR, will ensure our treasured clean water, air and environment will remain protected for generations to come.

PolyMet has been working through the regulatory process long enough for a generation of Minnesota kids to graduate from high school and college, get married, start careers and have kids of our own. Now, with the release of the draft Permit to Mine and the DNR’s draft decision, we’re closer than ever to finally realizing a brighter future with copper/nickel mining on the Iron Range.

The young leaders of Better In Our Back Yard look forward to participating in the upcoming public comment process and advocating in support of PolyMet’s draft Permit to Mine. We believe that Minnesota stands poised to become a world leader in the responsible development of these metals so critical to our daily lives and technologies like clean energy and electric cars. Because we can do it here – better in our back yard.

###

About Better In Our Back Yard

 

Better In Our Back Yard is a coalition of dedicated young and emerging leaders in industrial development who understand responsible industry drives our primary economy.

Lives and livelihoods depend on industries like manufacturing and mining and we understand the importance of this to our region. We recognize that in a globalized economy, our resources are often sourced from parts of the world that lack environmental and labor regulations.

We believe it is our responsibility to lead the world in natural resource development using our robust regulatory framework, along with talented scientists, engineers and manufacturers.

 

Media Contact: Arik Forsman

Email: arikforsman@gmail.com

Cell: 218.290.5496

A Look Back at 2017

As we round out the past few weeks full of positive momentum for the mining industry, we want to express our sincerest thanks to all of you who have written letters, sent an email or tweet, made a call, or otherwise voiced your support for industry in our region. We are grateful to have your support. It truly makes a difference with our efforts to create jobs and protect our way of life in this great state.

Since launching Better In Our Back Yard this year, we’ve developed a two-pronged digital strategy to reach audiences in northern Minnesota. First, we launched www.BetterInOurBackYard.com to showcase regional thought leadership surrounding important topics in industrial development. With each post, we’ve garnered more interest and support for our cause. We have released and submitted statements regarding Enbridge Line 3 and the Wild Rice Sulfate hearings, both critical issues that have sparked much discussion in our region. Second, we developed a strong social media strategy leveraging Facebook and LinkedIn to further share our web content, important events, and other industry-related articles or information. Together, our strategies are making an impact.

We are very pleased with the progress we’ve made in the past year and we look forward to educating the region on the importance of responsible industrial development in our state’s economy. Thank you again for supporting Better In Our Back Yard.