NorthMet Mine

photo: Acid Mine Drainage
Acid Mine Drainage
Carol Stoker, NASA Ames Research Center

photo: PolyMet mine site
PolyMet mine site
Mike Possis, Wildthingphoto.com

PolyMet’s NorthMet open pit mine is the first sulfide mine project ever proposed within the state of Minnesota and is planned for the extraction of copper, nickel, and various other metals from the Mesabi Iron Range.  Located near important tributaries in northeastern Minnesota such as the Embarrass and Partridge Rivers, the potential for acid mine drainage (AMD) from this open pit mine is especially pertinent due to its capability to pollute major water bodies such as the St. Louis River and Lake Superior.  The purchase of the Erie Plant, a former taconite facility located 6 miles to the west of the property, will be utilized for processing and will be connected by private railways that go through public lands.  The plant will utilize existing tailing facilities and include electric substations, and crushing and milling facilities while planning to operate at 1/3rd its processing capacity of 100,000 tons per day, or 32,000 tpd.  However, the potential for expanded production does exist due to other known deposits within the surrounding area.

A land exchange with the US Forest Service (USFS) has also been proposed by PolyMet to exchange 6,650 acres of federal public land within the Superior National Forest to private ownership for the development of a copper-nickel sulfide strip mine.  The land exchange would eliminate critical federal environmental protections such as the Weeks Act, which was enacted in 1911 to protect USFS lands for forest growth and watershed quality.  Strip mining is not permitted on Weeks Act land, so special legislation removing environmental regulations would be necessary in order for PolyMet to move forward with the process.  Protection provided by the Endangered Species Act and the National Environmental Policy Act would also be removed by the exchange.  Minnesota politicians have been unsuccessful in the past in passing legislation that would bypass the normal public review process for land exchanges.  However, the possibility of future legislation remains and would fast track a land exchange simply for the benefit of multinational mining companies.

The NorthMet Project will be the first mine ever operated by PolyMet and would occur on land that has never been mined before.  Currently, the Swiss corporate mining titan, Glencore, financially backs PolyMet and plans to sell the metals on the global commodities market.  Allegations of human rights issues, environmental destruction, and labor rights violations plague the company which owns approximately 25% of PolyMet.

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