PolyMet Mining Corp. has submitted a 15,000-page permit application for its copper project in northeast Minnesota and for the first time submitted the money it would offer as financial insurance against future pollution and reclamation costs: $12 million for the first year of construction, $44 million for the second, and $197 million for the third. That reflects the progressively greater costs as the project’s footprint expands, plus long-term water treatment when it becomes necessary, company officials said.
The Minneapolis Star Tribune reported that the company said that over the proposed 20-year life of the mine, the total amount of financial protections would equal the cost of reclamation, including a sophisticated water treatment system that would likely have to operate for many decades to remove pollutants from runoff and groundwater even after the mine has closed.
Jon Cherry, PolyMet’s chief executive, said the permit application “demonstrates in detail the numerous steps we would take to ensure the mine operates in an environmentally responsible and safe manner, meets the high standards and expectations we and others have set for the project, and that there will be funds set aside to ensure that taxpayer dollars will not be needed for reclamation.”
The environmental review Minnesota finalized earlier this year predicted that closing the mine will cost $200 million, plus $3.5 million to $6 million annually to treat water that will flow from the site.
Opponents of the mine said the company should provide at least $350 million up front for remediation and closing costs, a sum that does not include protections from accidents like tailings dam failures or other unpredicted events.
Kevin Lee, an attorney with the nonprofit law firm Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, said that the 15,000-page permit application does not provide enough long-term funding for financial protections, and it’s doesn’t provide enough information on how the company plans to treat water once the mine closes.
“We would absolutely want to see more,” he said.
Officials from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) said the permit application triggers a review that is likely to take many months. They said it will include extensive evaluation of the environmental and financial questions that will likely result in changes to the proposed permit.
The state has hired financial and mine engineering experts to help it evaluate the mining plan and the financial assurance proposal.
“We will certainly be looking carefully at what we understand to be the companys financial capacities,” said Barb Naramore, DNR assistant commissioner.
In addition, the state’s upcoming review will determine whether the permit meets state standards and has incorporated the environmental protections outlined earlier in the regulatory process, the DNR said.
If the DNR decides that, with likely changes, the permit meets state and federal requirements, it will open up a public comment period expected to include public meetings.