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minnesota sulfide mining

Newly emboldened Twin Metals plows ahead

by Dan Burns on June 11, 2018 · 0 comments

bwcaTwin Metals wants to create a big sulfide mine right next to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. It is a truly terrible idea, in every way, and Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton seemed to have more or less killed the project when he publicly agreed with that assessment. But things have changed. First, the Trump administration reversed an Obama call and renewed the leases last month. And now the planners are a hive of busy bees indeed.
 

Twin Metals, the company planning to build an underground copper-nickel mine near Ely, Minn., said (May 24) it will open an office in Babbitt and wants to locate its processing facility east of Birch Lake…
 
Twin Metals officials said plans to locate the processing site east of Birch Lake differs from previous proposals. Before, the company had planned to build it south of the Ely airport and west of Birch Lake. Company officials said mine employees will access the underground mine from the processing site. The facility would be built on about 100 acres of land owned by Twin Metals.
(MPR)

The real power behind this is mining giant Antofagasta. This notes its billionaire owner’s suspicious tie to the current presidential administration, and also has more on the lease thing. The fact that it took the “election” of Trump to bring Twin Metals back from the dead should give anyone pause.
 

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To say the least.
 

Final permit decisions on PolyMet’s proposed NorthMet Mining Project are approaching, and for all the celebration of the process by politicians and company promoters here in Minnesota, we have grave concerns. We bring this message from Duluth, where we live downstream of the proposed PolyMet mine.
 
Last week we welcomed a delegation from Amnesty International to discuss their experience with a British Columbia copper sulfide mine upstream of their own communities. This is a group that has heard it all before: promises of safety from mining companies, claims of new technology that isn’t, guarantees of zero discharge, and assurances from government officials that it will all be fine.
 
Unfortunately, in 2014, the dam upstream of them collapsed, sending toxic water and tailings into nearby Quesnel Lake, effectively turning the pristine lake into a waste pit. The Mount Polley dam breach is the worst environmental disaster in Canadian history, and it is ongoing.
(MinnPost)

A related and similarly enlightening item:
 

The outdoor recreational industry contributed toward two percent of the U.S. GDP in 2016, according to a preliminary report the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) released (on February 14). It’s the bureau’s first attempt to analyze this economic sector, and it points to the surprisingly large contribution of hunting, festivals, and countless other outdoor activities to the American economy.
 
Indeed, 2 percent amounted to nearly $374 billion in 2016. That’s enough money to fund the Department of Interior 27 times over. And this economy is growing at a faster rate than the general U.S. economy. It grew 3.8 percent in 2016 whereas the overall economy saw just a 2.8 percent rise…
 
With data on this industry available, lawmakers should have no excuse for not measuring the impacts of extraction and other land use on public lands, said Matt Lee-Ashley, senior director of environmental strategy and communications at the Center for American Progress, to Earther. After all, as he pointed out, the mining industry (which includes oil and gas) amounted to just $260 billion in 2016. Outdoor recreation wins in that aspect.
(Earther)

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bwcaTwo items.
 

An environmental group says the design for the proposed PolyMet copper-nickel mine in northeastern Minnesota has changed in significant ways that require regulators to conduct a fresh environmental review of the revisions.
 
WaterLegacy says changes in the mine’s tailings basin and wastewater treatment facilities, and a new disclosure of how much water would be pumped from the mine, obligate federal and state agencies to take a closer look — a move that could cause further delays in an already long process. The group made the request in a letter (June 29) to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and other agencies.
 
Paula Maccabee, an attorney for WaterLegacy, said the plans changed between March 2016 when the DNR approved the final environmental impact statement and when PolyMet started submitting permit applications in recent months. She called it a “bait-and-switch” to cut up-front costs. She also said the changes increase the risks of a catastrophic dam failure, pollution spills and damage to wetlands.
(MPR)

(On June 9), Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy (MCEA) appealed an order of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) that removed public water protections from many miles of Minnesota streams and rivers. A DNR order in April used a one size fits all approach to delete over 640 miles of waterways from Minnesota’s public water inventory with no public notice, no chance for the public to comment and with no transparency. Because there was no public input, many public waters that should be protected would lose that protection if the DNR’s order is implemented. MCEA appealed to reverse DNR’s order and protect these public waters from being filled, drained, dammed or altered without a permit.
 
“As we investigated waterways that DNR deleted as public waters, we were shocked to discover many weren’t private ditches, but were clearly public waters,” said Leigh Currie, Staff Attorney at MCEA. “DNR’s order, supposedly to correct mistakes, only made issues with the public waters map worse. Dozens of public waters that are not private ditches were erased incorrectly.”
(Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy)

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Setbacks for the MN sulfide mining crowd

by Dan Burns on June 8, 2017 · 1 comment

sulfideI did not expect this first one. Maybe Trump has some kind of personal beef with Twin Metals’s owner, the ecological disaster-monger Antofagasta. Whatever the motivation is, here, it looks good to me.

 

The U.S. Department of Justice late Monday filed a motion asking a federal judge to dismiss the lawsuit by Twin Metals that seeks renewal of federal mining leases that had been withdrawn by the Obama administration.
 
The move is a blow for copper mining supporters who had hoped the Trump administration would drop opposition to the lawsuit and re-issue the permits to allow the mine to advance…
 
Twin Metals sued to get the leases back. Now, the Justice Department is fighting that effort, a sign that the Interior Department under Trump may be sticking with the moratorium.
(Duluth News Tribune)

Minnesota’s mining regulators at the Land and Minerals Division of the Department of Natural Resources face a stiff test of fidelity to the citizens of Minnesota as described in an article by Josephine Marcotty in the Strib’s paper edition on May 14th. The issue is: what are the financial reserves that must be set aside to assure the state that PolyMet’s proposed mine will be cleaned up and closed properly, maintenance free, with no losses to the state?
 
Two sets of experts have looked at the cost of pre-planning PolyMet Mining Corp.’s funeral, so to speak, and the numbers are grim. The state’s own retained experts say it’s in the neighborhood of $650 million, while an independent expert, who delivered a presentation at the University of Minnesota recently, said it was more like $934 million, up front. That is just shy of a billion dollars, people. That is three or four times PolyMet’s market capitalization, let alone book value.
(Left.mn)

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bwcaThis isn’t a pleasant matter to brood over, but it is the reality with which we now have to deal.
 

Similar federal measures blocking mineral exploration near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness will also bite the dust. Now, bear in mind, that doesn’t necessarily mean that shovels will turn in the near future. It does, however, create a regulatory environment where they could. Companies would still need to invest in the expensive business of mining the widely dispersed ores in the region’s mineral reserves. (As I’ve explained recently and for the last 16 years, that is why we should always maintain healthy skepticism and foster more diverse economic opportunities for our region)…
 
That brings to mind the old wounds likely to be re-opened in coming years. As this wonderful recent Tom Weber story on Minnesota Public Radio shows, the 1970s BWCA debate created enduring division in the city of Ely. Some of the same people, their kids and grandkids, are prepared to fight the issue all over again.
 
For years, the nonferrous mining debate has centered on mining projects *near* the BWCA. The same watershed, but not within the boundaries of the park. But as this Jan. 19 story in the Guardian shows, Republicans don’t just want to eliminate regulations near federals lands like the BWCA, they actually want to transfer the lands, at a significant discount, in most cases to the states.
(Minnesota Brown)

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PolyMet gets its land swap

by Dan Burns on January 11, 2017 · 0 comments

sulfideThis was not a surprise, but it still sucks.
 

Paul Danicic, Executive Director of the Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness, issued the following statement in response:
 

“The transfer of thousands of acres of Superior National Forest land to PolyMet is a bad deal for taxpayers, premature, and not in the public interest. No exchange of land can undo the damage that PolyMet would do to this area. The land that PolyMet seeks to mine contains thousands of acres of high-value wetlands that are irreplaceable.
 
The standard for federal land exchanges is that the exchange must be in the public interest. PolyMet would create polluted water that would require expensive treatment for hundreds of years. PolyMet would be the largest permitted destruction of wetlands in Minnesota history. The risk to the St. Louis River, Lake Superior, and downstream communities from this mine proposal demonstrates why it is not in the public interest…

(Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness)

Meanwhile, copper and nickel prices remain at long-term lows in a glutted market, and the inevitable Trump recession will only drive them further into the depths.
 

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Twin Metals leases application gets crushed

by Dan Burns on December 16, 2016 · 0 comments

sulfideSweet!
 

The Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness applauds the decision by federal agencies to deny Twin Metals Minnesota’s application to extend two federal mineral leases. This decision comes after an extensive public input period where over 70,000 people asked the federal government to deny the lease extension. Hundreds of people showed up to public meetings in Duluth and Ely to express their concerns.
 
The Department of Interior also announced it has received an application from the U.S. Forest Service to withdraw federal mineral rights in the Boundary Waters watershed. This starts a public review process to analyze withdrawing federal mineral rights for a twenty-year period. A public input period on this permanent protection for the Boundary Waters will begin once notice is published in the Federal Register and will last ninety days. This review also creates a two-year “time out” when no new federal mineral leases can be issued.
 
“These actions happened because tens of thousands of people spoke up against locating a sulfide mine on the edge of America’s most popular wilderness area,” stated Executive Director Paul Danicic.
(Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness)

There is more detail in this article from MPR, though I would suggest that it’s too friendly to Twin Metals’ inflated estimates of alleged positive economic impact on the region (start on page 17 of the linked pdf). It notes that Twin Metals says they’re not giving up. If you ask me and a whole lot of other people, it’s high time that they do so. So should PolyMet.

 
And I have to note that I don’t know how much interest Trump & Co. will take in this issue. Obviously efforts could be initiated to reverse the above, and bring about the worst outcomes instead.
 

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New developments on Minnesota sulfide mining

by Dan Burns on September 14, 2016 · 0 comments

Tailings Pond Breach 20140805Twin Metals is going to court to try to get old mineral leases renewed.
 

Paul Danicic, Executive Director of the Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness issued this statement in response:
 
“We’re deeply disappointed that Twin Metals is suing to prevent the Bureau of Land Management from conducting a diligent and comprehensive review of their mineral lease application.
 
Over 65,000 public comments were submitted this summer opposing renewal of these leases near the Boundary Waters. The BLM and U.S. Forest Service have heard from thousands of people that sulfide mining on the edge of the wilderness is an unacceptable risk. Twin Metals’ lawsuit seeks to silence them…

(Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness)

The Duluth City Council shot down proposed PolyMet hearings.
 

Backers of the proposal argued that a contested case hearing — as this process is also known — would add something new to the regulatory process. J.T. Haines of Duluth said such a hearing would weigh competing claims of whether PolyMet can mine safely.
 
“Unlike public meetings … where much of the time people simply state their opinion without scrutiny, a contested case hearing would provide a more rigorous forum, including subjecting testimony to cross-examination, a key distinction,” Haines said. “That’s something both sides should welcome.”
 
But after lengthy debate, the City Council voted against the resolution. Councilor Barb Russ said it was the job of the Minnesota DNR to decide whether evidentary hearings on PolyMet are needed.
(MPR)

You have your good days and your not-so-good ones. The saga is ongoing.
 

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Citizen activism on PolyMet sulfide mining

by Dan Burns on August 25, 2016 · 0 comments

sulfideThis is a very good idea.
 

A group of Duluth citizens is asking for evidence-based hearings before state regulators decide whether to approve the proposed PolyMet copper-nickel mine.
 
The so-called “contested case hearing” would take place before an administrative law judge with evidence, testimony and cross-examination.
 
The judge would then issue a recommendation to the Department of Natural Resources, before the DNR commissioner decides whether to grant PolyMet its Permit to Mine.
 
“As Duluthians we have significant concerns about the PolyMet proposal and its likely impacts on our watershed,” said Duluth resident John Dobertstein, “And believe the DNR and citizens of this state should hear all evidence before making a decision.”
(MPR)

The article goes on to note that PolyMet has begun applying for permits. The most likely scenario at this time seems to be that they will get those and then sit on things until there is evidence of a sustained recovery in copper and nickel prices. Which are still down, down, down.
 

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sulfideThis is not the PolyMet project. It is the one proposed for right next to the BWCA. Governor Dayton, among many others, already publicly opposes it. Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN) has proposed federal legislation to block it.
 

U.S. Forest Service officials on Monday said they are “deeply concerned” about potential impacts of the proposed Twin Metals copper mine on the edge of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and announced a public comment period before the agency’s decision on extending mining leases for the project.
(Duluth News Tribune)

More:
 

Antofagasta PLC holds two federal mineral leases that were issued in 1966 as part of their Twin Metals Minnesota proposal. One of these mineral leases includes land within a quarter mile of the wilderness boundary. The Forest Service has been asked by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management whether it “consents” to the extension of these leases for ten more years. If the Forest Service does not give consent to extend these leases, Twin Metals’ sulfide mine proposal on the edge of the Boundary Waters would be prevented from polluting the wilderness…
 
The Forest Service will start a thirty day public input period beginning on June 20th, one week from (Monday). They will also hold a public hearing on whether to deny the Twin Metals leases in Duluth on July 13th. The Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness will be there in force, and intends to gather tens of thousands of public comments supporting a decision that protects the BWCA from sulfide mining.
(Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness)

As for PolyMet, it’s still in the process of getting more permits. The world markets for copper and nickel remain ugly. (Click on the link and look at, for example, the five-year copper chart.)
 

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