The PolyMet lie you do not have to be a scientist to recognize

Carla  Arneson

On Sept. 6., U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan and U.S. Rep. Tom Emmer attached Amendment No.70 to the Interior Environment Appropriations portion of the federal omnibus funding bill. The sole purpose of Amendment No. 70 is to force the U.S. Forest Service to end a scientific study of copper-nickel sulfide mining near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW), by defunding it.  

Less than a month later Emmer introduced HR 3905, a bill designed to deny Minnesotans the right to protect their children’s future. Congress would essentially have the power to veto any U.S. Forest Service decision to protect Minnesota’s waters and Minnesota’s children. The welfare of foreign sulfide mining corporations comes first!  

Minnesota needs a referendum on sulfide mining instead of rogue legislators calling the shots.

Nolan’s excuse is that “mining, forestry and other multiple use activities were explicitly to be allowed in the remaining two million acres” of the Superior National Forest. (Duluth News Tribune) Explicitly?  

Nothing in the Boundary Waters Act says that Minnesota must allow sulfide mining to pollute our waters and poison our children.  

The Mining Protection Area protects every other major portion of the BWCAW, except the area of the Kawishiwi River watershed, a part of the Superior National Forest most closely aligned to the BWCAW.  

The Gunflint Trail, the Fernberg Road, and the Echo Trail, all are mining protection areas, but not the corridor that would protect the Kawishiwi River watershed and the adjacent BWCAW.

If Nolan and Emmer cared about protecting Minnesota’s waters and Minnesota’s children, they would have introduced legislation extending the Mining Protection Area to include the Kawishiwi River watershed—Headwaters of the Rainy River watershed—whose waters flow through the BWCAW, Voyageurs National Park, and on into Canada.  

Instead Nolan and Emmer seek to defund crucial scientific research. Research that would have looked at the very things deliberately left out of PolyMet’s Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS).  

And if Emmer has his way, Congress would control the fate of Superior National Forest lands in Minnesota. Every other state in the union could essentially vote to pollute Minnesota’s waters forever. How convenient for the sulfide mining industry.  

“Adaptive management strategy”

Nolan and Emmer are afraid of what a scientific study by the U.S. Forest Service could discover. Until now the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Land and Minerals and the sulfide mining industry have controlled what has gone into PolyMet’s FEIS. And what has not.  

Despite public comments pointing out critical scientific flaws, science was manipulated or buried in the mind-numbing, convoluted jargon of PolyMet’s FEIS.  

Responses by PolyMet, DNR Land and Minerals, and mining company hires such as Barr engineering, were couched in the meaningless rhetoric used throughout PolyMet’s FEIS. Terminology such as “adaptive management strategy.”  

Or, “adaptive management plan,” “adaptive engineering control,” “adaptive management practices,” “adaptive management measures,” “wetland adaptive monitoring;” take your pick of “adaptive” terms used 285 times in PolyMet’s FEIS.  

“Adaptive,” translated, means scientific research and monitoring that was supposed to have been done—so problems were identified, dealt with, and if possible solved during PolyMet’s EIS process—would instead only be monitored after permitting.  

A complete EIS is supposed to identify potential problems and costs to design the problem out in the EIS. If a problem has no solution or is inordinately expensive it must be discussed in the EIS and added to potential impacts of the project. Under PolyMet’s “adaptive management strategy” scenario the opposite is true.  

Now, with PolyMet’s version of an EIS, when a problem arises and the fix is expensive—or there is no fix—it would play out like this: the sulfide mining company would ask for a variance from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) and get one, or the MPCA would “work with the company” ad infinitum, or the MPCA would let the company avoid paying millions of dollars in violations with a consent decree, or ignore violations for conductivity, sulfate, and other parameters, or issue a permit with no limits—only monitoring—therefore without any consequences. If enforcement would actually occur, the legislature would intervene to stop it; or the company would threaten to close, and the legislature would jump in to save it. Or defund the agency. Replicating the taconite industry’s playbook used for decades.

Reality versus magical thinking

When a mythical groundwater mound—as proposed in PolyMet’s FEIS—fails to materialize or is impossible to manage, NorthMet’s toxic pit waters would end up in Northshore’s Peter Mitchell pit, where the Laurentian Divide has been removed, mined out for taconite, and from which the toxic waters would eventually be released to Birch Lake and the Rainy River watershed. (FEIS 5.2.2 Water Resources, p. 5-241) Exactly what “adaptive management strategy” would suck millions of gallons of contaminated water back again?  

“Co-leads have proposed an adaptive management strategy to monitor for a possible northward flow path from the NorthMet Mine Site’s East pit, and to mitigate or prevent this flow path if necessary.” Emphasis added. (PolyMet)  

What happens when the sole drinking water aquifer within the Duluth Complex is contaminated? What happens to Minnesota’s Water Complex—to Lake Superior, the BWCAW, and Voyageur National Park—when the headwaters of all three are contaminated?

What happens to Minnesota’s children with release of neurotoxins mercury, nickel, manganese, and arsenic to their air and water? More damage to already decreased intellectual capability? Autism?  

Questions like these are asked in a valid Risk Assessment, and Minnesota has never had one done for sulfide mining in our water-rich environment. Until the U.S. Forest Service began the scientific process that would likely have included a complete Human Health and Ecological Risk Assessment.  

Nolan and Emmer are out to sabotage science. At all costs. Including children.  

The Big Lie

Minnesota’s anti-water legislators proclaim PolyMet is in a different watershed, as if polluting Lake Superior is acceptable. They know full well that PolyMet alone is capable of polluting both watersheds.  

“The BWCAW and Voyageurs National Park are located in different watersheds than the NorthMet Project area. Surface water flow and surficial groundwater flow from the NorthMet Project Proposed Action would not directly, indirectly, or cumulatively affect the water in these areas. Potential bedrock groundwater flow from the Mine Site north to the Northshore Mine, if determined possible through monitoring, would be prevented.” (PolyMet) Prevented how? Yup, that’s right, “adaptive management strategy.”  

Big lie   

And you do not have to be a scientist to figure it out. The duplicity is evident. Go to PolyMet’s FEIS and look at ten maps that contain the One Hundred Mile Swamp.  

Every map is drawn so that the One Hundred Mile Swamp is cut off before it crosses the Laurentian Divide (a barely discernable Swamp outline further camouflages the deceit). Deliberately hiding the fact that there is definitely “potential” for groundwater flow from PolyMet’s NorthMet mine, not only south to the Lake Superior watershed, but also north to the Rainy River watershed.

Toxic sulfide mining pollution could flow north, not only through the Peter Mitchell pit to Birch Lake, but also by way of the One Hundred Mile Swamp, following the directional flow of groundwater determined by geologic rock types and their associated structures beneath the Laurentian Divide. The contaminant migration pathways have had little to no scrutiny in PolyMet’s EIS, and cannot be known with any certainty without detailed onsite hydro-geologic investigations.  

And whatever influence the Partridge River has on the One Hundred Mile Swamp does not preclude groundwater flowing north beneath the Laurentian Divide.  

The altered One Hundred Mile Swamp maps first came to light in 2014—before PolyMet’s FEIS— yet the maps were never changed. PolyMet and co-lead agencies ignored the issue with you guessed it, “adaptive management strategy.”  

However, I went looking and found the USGS field maps used to determine the outline of the One Hundred Mile Swamp. The field maps were then copied, fit together, and the outline, which clearly edge matched from quadrangle map to quadrangle map, was highlighted for easy visibility. As you can see the outline closely matches the USGS Streamer map used on the “Before It’s News” website in 2014.  

If PolyMet’s fake maps were not deliberate, then why not correct them before release of the FEIS?  

The last thing PolyMet needed was to be seen polluting two watersheds! PolyMet has staked its permitting success on ‘only’ polluting the Lake Superior watershed. As if that is not bad enough. It was far easier to lie about a map, hope the public never noticed, and co-lead agencies would roll over allowing the deception.  

Now Emmer, with HR 3905, demands that the U.S. Forest Service essentially ask permission from Congress to protect the waters Minnesotans cherish, ask permission to protect the health of our children. Ask permission!  

Law, politics, and science in Minnesota

Since there was not a standard human health risk assessment performed on the air, soils, sediments, surface or groundwater, the DNR cannot certify that human health will be protected. The lack of protection of human health in air, soils, sediments and water means the DNR cannot issue PolyMet water appropriation permits under MN. Statute 103G.297 Subd. 3 (2) & (3).  

As for Antofagasta, Nolan and Emmer attached an amendment to a federal omnibus funding bill in order to stop a federal agency’s scientific research. Emmer introduced a bill to allow Congress to override that same agency’s responsibility to protect the sustainable surface resources of the lands under its care.  

Nolan and Emmer intend to force sulfide mining on Minnesota—uncaring of the harm it would do to your waters and your children—ignoring the fact that the majority of Minnesotans oppose sulfide mining to protect both. Nolan and Emmer continually insist that sulfide mining is about the science, but then hypocritically deny the people of Minnesota the right to that science.  

We could always vote them out of office. That adaptive management strategy works.