For Immediate Release, January 14, 2011
||Marc Fink, Center for Biological Diversity, (218) 525-3884
Betsy Daub, Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness, (612) 332-9630
Lawsuit Filed to Block Minnesota Agency's $4 Million Loan to PolyMet Mining Company
DULUTH, Minn.— Five conservation groups today filed a lawsuit against Minnesota’s Iron Range Resources Board, challenging a $4 million loan to a company that is pursuing a large open-pit sulfide mine but has yet to get environmental approvals. The loan to PolyMet Mining Company was approved at the Board’s Dec. 16 meeting, and would be used by PolyMet to purchase lands required for a proposed land exchange with the U.S. Forest Service.
The proposed sulfide mine, which would destroy hundreds of acres of high-quality wetlands, violate water-quality standards, and eliminate two square miles of critical habitat for lynx and wolves, is currently in the environmental review process along with the related land exchange. Today’s suit was filed by the Center for Biological Diversity, Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, Save Lake Superior Association, Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness and Indigenous Environmental Network.
“Minnesota law prohibits state agencies from providing any approvals, permits or loans for proposed projects that are still going through the environmental review process,” said Marc Fink, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. “As we warned Iron Range Resources ahead of time, this loan violates state law.”
The Minnesota Environmental Policy Act requires agencies to prepare an environmental analysis for projects that may result in significant environmental impacts. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is currently working with federal agencies to prepare a supplemental environmental analysis for the proposed PolyMet mine project after the initial draft received critical reviews from other agencies, tribal scientists and the public.
“Our state laws require agencies to ensure our clean water and other natural resources will be protected before they throw the state’s support behind a project,” said Betsy Daub, policy director for the Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness. “In this case, unfortunately, Iron Range Resources acted like the PolyMet mine is a sure thing, even though the environmental review is far from over and serious doubts remain about whether the mine can be developed safely.”
The Iron Range Resources’ loan marks the second time that a governmental board has attempted to speed up the controversial PolyMet mine proposal prior to the required environmental review. In 2007, St. Louis County was found in violation of the Minnesota Environmental Policy Act for allowing wetlands work to begin during the review process.
The proposed PolyMet mine site is located on the Superior National Forest, but PolyMet owns the mineral rights. PolyMet’s proposed open pit mine is not allowed on Superior National Forest lands, which has triggered a proposed land exchange between the Forest Service and PolyMet. The $4 million loan from the Iron Range Resources Board would be used by PolyMet to purchase lands to be exchanged with the Forest Service for the proposed mine site.
In comments submitted last fall, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency rated the PolyMet mine proposal as “environmentally unsatisfactory-Inadequate” due to unacceptable and long-term water-quality impacts. The tribal cooperating agencies also determined that the proposed mining project would need to treat wastewater for “hundreds or thousands of years” to avoid contamination of nearby surface waters.
“Based on the comments received so far from the EPA and other agencies, it’s far from a foregone conclusion that the PolyMet mine will ever be approved, making this premature state loan even more egregious,” said Le Lind of Save Lake Superior Association.
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 315,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.