NorthMet: EPA mining document highlights


Since November of 2013, Public Record Media has been collecting agency correspondence related to mining operations in northern Minnesota, including the proposed PolyMet “NorthMet” copper-sulfide mine.

The NorthMet project has been the subject of an environmental review process conducted by three “co-lead” agencies – the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR), the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the U.S. Forest Service. Other agencies – such as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) – have been conducting related reviews of the project.

The co-lead agencies are now in the process of gathering public comments regarding their Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement (SDEIS). Approval of the SDEIS is required for the NorthMet project to move on to the next steps in the review and permitting process.

Disagreements over the adequacy of the document previous to the SDEIS (the DEIS) led to the current review. Concerns about the 2009 DEIS were raised by members of the public, as well as by the EPA.

EPA data cache

In February of 2014, Public Record Media received a trove of documents from the EPA relating to NorthMet and other mining projects. A review of the documents has been ongoing, and PRM has started to post relevant documents on its web site.

What follows is a series of notable records from PRM’s first EPA data cache. Most of the records relate to the NorthMet project.

Copper mining background

• Minnesota DNR literature entitled “Digging Into the Promise of Copper: Some of the world’s most important metals lie below the forests of northeastern Minnesota.” The document provides agency-produced background on the debate over copper mining. July 18, 2012.

NorthMet SDEIS Gantt chart project timeline

Timeline as of June 14, 2012.

Water treatment issues

• PolyMet press release on water quality treatment pilot forwarded among EPA staff. The pilot project treated water with elevated levels of sulfate. November 19, 2012.

• EPA correspondence about PolyMet water filtration test. October 10, 2012.

• E-mail correspondence between Christine Wagener of EPA and other EPA staff. Wagener notes that PolyMet is “serious about moving forward” but also notes that “groundwater will be the bigger problem” for PolyMet since “we just won’t see the consequences for years to come.” October 10, 2012.

Water sampling and analysis

• EPA correspondence about PolyMet water sampling of wetland areas running behind schedule, and the possible negative impact on the EPA’s review of the project. January 24, 2012.

PolyMet to EPA correspondence regarding PolyMet water modeling and groundwater review. Correspondence notes that progress was “slower than we would have liked.” Correspondence also notes a retraction issued by the Star Tribune regarding EPA’s oversight of the project. PolyMet official notes the support of Congressman Chip Cravaak for the project. April 6, 2012.

• EPA correspondence relating to EPA’s dissatisfaction with the decision by co-lead agencies to not conduct sensitivity analysis of groundwater modeling, and the decision by co-lead agencies not to inform EPA of that decision. The e-mails note that EPA was “dissatisfied that we discovered this information blindly” and that the agency believed that there had “been a breakdown in the collaboration process,” whereby cooperating agencies were not “being kept in the loop.” February 1, 2012.

Financial assurance; financials

• US Army Corps of Engineers. Memo on financial assurances “for compensatory mitigation to offset environmental losses resulting from unavoidable impacts to waters.” December 1, 2011.

• Backcountry Hunters and Anglers letter to the Minnesota congressional delegation regarding concerns over financial assurance. March 26, 2012.

• EPA e-mail regarding PolyMet financials.  December 7, 2012.

Impact on Wild Rice

• E-mail correspondence regarding a Minnesota Pollution Control Agency designation relating to NorthMet’s potential impact on the production of wild rice in the Embarrass River. January 5, 2012.

• EPA correspondence relating to questions about the accuracy of PolyMet sponsored study on wild rice/water quality. May 3, 2012.

• E-mail correspondence regarding MPCA recommendation on waters used for wild rice production. In correspondence, MPCA notes that PolyMet wants to submit feedback on the standards. September 11, 2012.

Migratory bird deaths

• EPA correspondence regarding past cases of migratory bird deaths related to open-pit waste water. July 9, 2012.