The permitting process to build and operate Minnesota’s first copper-nickel-precious metals mine is nearing completion with the state validating the Final Environmental Impact Statement for the NorthMet Project on March 3, 2016, and issuing draft permits in late 2017 and early 2018.
The environmental review spanned nearly 10 years and was completed in accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act and the Minnesota Environmental Policy Act by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, the U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and other state and federal agencies. It is the largest and lengthiest environmental review ever conducted in Minnesota.
The Final Environmental Impact Statement and draft permits subsequently released by the state, demonstrate that the NorthMet Project is capable of meeting all applicable state and federal environmental standards.
Following are environmental review and permitting process highlights for the NorthMet Project.
- Administrative land exchange – we transferred land titles with the Forest Service June 28, 2018, closing the transaction. We now own the land over the NorthMet ore body.
- Legislative land exchange – this measure is working its way through the legislative process, having passed out of the House of Representatives in late 2017 as a stand-alone bill, and out of the Senate June 2018 as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act. The legislative process could be completed by late summer 2018, conferring the stamp of Congressional mandate to the administrative land exchange.
State agencies are reviewing public comments made on the draft permits they have released and are working through the process toward final decisions.
In addition to supporting the completion of the permitting process, we are focused on securing construction financing so the project can move forward into construction promptly upon receipt of permits and completion of the land exchange.
Environmental Review and Permits Timeline
June 28, 2018
The U.S. Forest Service and PolyMet exchange titles to federal and private lands, completing the administrative land exchange. The transfer of surface rights to approximately 6,650 acres of federal lands to PolyMet gives the company control over both surface and mineral rights in and around the NorthMet ore body.
June 18, 2018
The U.S. Senate passes on an 85-10 vote the National Defense Authorization Act, which carries as an amendment the same land exchange measure that passed out of the House November 28, 2017. The Act, if signed by the president, ratifies the administrative land exchange.
February 7-8, 2018
The DNR and MPCA co-host two public meetings, in Aurora and Duluth, marking the last public meetings associated with permitting the NorthMet Project. Together, the meetings attract approximately 1,250 people, in which about 100 individuals share their comments on the record with the agencies. The last of the public comment periods close March 16, 2018.
August 2017 – January 2018
State agencies release draft permits for public comment. The DNR releases six draft water appropriations permits in August, with a 30-day comment period, two draft dam safety permits in September, also with a 30-day comment period, and the draft Permit to Mine with its financial assurance provisions, in January, with a 60-day public comment period. Likewise, the MPCA releases the draft water quality (NPDES/SDS) permit, draft air emission permit and draft 401 Certification, all in January and all with 45-day comment periods. These drafts represent all of the major permits needed to build and operate the mine.
November 28, 2017
With a convincing 309-99 vote, the U.S. House of Representatives passes House Resolution 3115, the Superior National Forest Land Exchange Act of 2017, advancing the bill to the Senate.
June 29, 2017
U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan introduces bipartisan legislation directing the secretary of agriculture to move forward with the land exchange between PolyMet and the U.S. Forest Service. The purpose of House Resolution 3115 is to accelerate transfer and provide certainty of process for the land exchange, which the Forest Service authorized in its January 9, 2017 Record of Decision. The bill subsequently passes out of the House Natural Resources Committee on a 26-10 bipartisan vote.
JANUARY 9, 2017
U.S. Forest Service Authorizes Land Exchange
The U.S. Forest Service issues its Final Record of Decision authorizing the land exchange for the NorthMet Project in which 6,650 acres of federally-owned surface land above and around the NorthMet ore body will be exchanged for 6,690 acres of land currently owned or controlled by PolyMet. The action consolidates the surface land and mineral ownership in and around the NorthMet ore body and Erie Plant site. In a news release announcing the decision, Forest Supervisor Connie Cummins said, “This decision best serves the public interest.”
NOVEMBER 3, 2016
Company Submits Permit to Mine Application to State
The company submits its Permit to Mine application to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, which includes the Wetland Replacement Plan as well as financial assurance estimates. The permit is the last of the major permit applications required to be submitted before PolyMet can build and operate the mine.
The more than 15,000-page Permit to Mine application details the methods and controls PolyMet proposes to use to mine and process ore in an environmentally responsible and safe manner, plans to mitigate environmental impacts, and financial assurance to cover the costs of reclamation, closure and post-closure in compliance with state law.
AUGUST 24, 2016
Company Submits Air Quality Permit Application
PolyMet submits its air quality permit application to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. Earlier in the month the company submitted an application to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency for Section 401 Certification as part of the federal Section 404 wetlands permit application, which was already under consideration by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
The air quality permit application outlines the type and volume of emissions from the project, the methods to be used to control and monitor emissions, and the rules or regulations that apply to the operation.
You can track the progress of our permit applications at a state-sponsored website dedicated exclusively to providing information about PolyMet permits.
JULY 11, 2016
Company Submits First Permit Applications to State
PolyMet submits major water-related permit applications to the state. The permit applications include:
- Water quality permit – the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System/State Disposal System (NPDES/SDS) permit establishes the terms and conditions that must be met, including monitoring, when a facility discharges to surface or groundwater of the state.
- Water use permit – the water appropriation permit is needed for withdrawing or using water from a surface or groundwater source for the project.
- Dam safety permits – the permits establish the design, construction, and operating parameters to ensure long-term safe and stable operations of facilities with water impoundments, such as the tailings basin.
APRIL 19, 2016
State Initiates Permitting Process
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, in partnership with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and Department of Health, hosts a Pre-application Public Information Meeting in Aurora, officially initiating the state’s permitting process for the project. The state launches a website dedicated to PolyMet’s permitting process.
MARCH 3, 2016
State Makes Adequacy Determination, Validates Environmental Impact Statement
The State of Minnesota validates the Final Environmental Impact Statement for the NorthMet Project by announcing its adequacy decision that the Final Environmental Impact Statement demonstrates and confirms that the NorthMet Project can be built and operated in accordance with state and federal regulations. The decision marks the completion of the environmental review process for the state and paves the way for construction and operating permits for the project.
Calling the process “deliberative and thorough” in its news release, the Department of Natural Resources says, “we are confident this document [Environmental Impact Statement] has thoroughly examined the important environmental topics and has addressed them.”
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers still must issue its own Record of Decision on the Final Environmental Impact Statement. When that happens, the environmental review process ends.
DECEMBER 21, 2015
EPA Submits Final Environmental Impact Statement Comment Letter to Co-lead Agencies
The Environmental Protection Agency’s official comment on the adequacy of the Final Environmental Impact Statement indicates that the Final Environmental Impact Statement is adequate and any remaining questions it has will be addressed in permitting.
Download the EPA’s letter to the Department of Natural Resources [PDF] for details.
NOVEMBER 13, 2015
U.S. Forest Service Issues Draft Record of Decision on Land Exchange and Final Environmental Impact Statement
The U.S. Forest Service issues its Draft Record of Decision in support of the proposed land exchange in which 6,650 acres of federal lands would be exchanged for 6,690 acres of lands privately held by PolyMet. The decision marks the beginning of a 45-day objection period. The Forest Service in its draft decision says the land exchange ensures mineral resources are produced in an environmentally sound manner contributing to economic growth.
NOVEMBER 6, 2015
Department of Natural Resources Announces Completion of Final Environmental Impact Statement
The Department of Natural Resources announces the completion of the Final Environmental Impact Statement. The 3,500-page document accounts for public input and affirms the mine can produce strategically important metals in a manner that complies with the law, protects human health and the environment, and creates economic benefits. It is formally published in the Minnesota Environmental Quality Board (EQB) Monitor on November 9, and the Federal Register on November 13, 2015. Publication of the document in the EQB Monitor marks the beginning of a 30-day public review period, which was later extended by one week. In releasing the document, the Department of Natural Resources says the co-lead agencies have brought the highest level of rigor and objectivity to the NorthMet environmental review and that the process has been thoughtful, independent and thorough.
JUNE 22, 2015
Preliminary Final Environmental Impact Statement Released for Internal Review
The Department of Natural Resources issues for internal review to the co-lead and cooperating agencies the Preliminary Final Environmental Impact Statement.
MARCH 13, 2014
Environmental Protection Agency Issues EC-2 Rating for Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement
The Environmental Protection Agency rates the Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement as EC-2 [PDF] one of the highest ratings the agency has ever given to a mining project. The Minneapolis Light Rail and new Stillwater Bridge projects are among local projects that have received a similar rating. The EC-2 rating acknowledges the clarity and completeness of the environmental review as well as the extensive project improvements reflected in the Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement.
Download the Department of Natural Resources’ fact sheet on project changes since the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) [PDF] in 2009.
DECEMBER 13, 2013
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Publishes PolyMet Mining’s Application for the Clean Water Act Section 404 Permit (Federal Wetlands Permit)
The application undergoes public review and comment concurrent with the review of the Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement. This key federal permit covers mitigation and replacement of wetlands that will be affected by the project and ensures there will be no net loss of wetlands because of the project. The permit is one of a number of federal and mostly state permits that will be required of the project before any construction or rehabilitation work can begin. Permits for PolyMet Mining cannot be issued until after the Environmental Impact Statement is finalized.
Download the Department of Natural Resources’ fact sheet on the PolyMet project and wetlands [PDF].
DECEMBER 13, 2013 to MARCH 13, 2014
Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement Public Comment Period
The co-lead agencies publish the Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement, which is available on the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources website. The document undergoes public review. The Department of Natural Resources hosts well-attended public comment meetings in Duluth, Aurora and St. Paul.
2010 to 2013
SUPPLEMENTAL DRAFT ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT STATEMENT PREPARATION
The co-lead agencies develop a Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement. In October 2010, the U.S. Forest Service Superior National Forest joins the Department of Natural Resources and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers as a co-lead agency while the Environmental Protection Agency and local tribal bands serve as cooperating agencies in preparing the Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement. Expanding on the existing draft Environmental Impact Statement, this document:
- Reflects responses to comments received from the public and government agencies during the Draft Environmental Impact Statement comment stage.
- Integrates key project improvements, modifications, alternatives and mitigation measures to minimize environmental impacts.
- Incorporates the proposed land exchange between the U.S. Forest Service and PolyMet Mining, and the reason for the USFS joining as a co-lead agency.
Download the Department of Natural Resources’ fact sheet on project changes since the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) [PDF] in 2009.
2004 to 2010
Initial Environmental Review
Background studies and informational gathering begins in 2004 and continue today. These activities include wetlands delineation, archeological surveys, baseline water quality studies, plant and wildlife surveys and aquifer investigations. PolyMet works with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (state lead agency) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (federal lead agency) to develop an Environmental Impact Statement, a document designed to gather and disclose information about the proposed project, identify potential environmental effects and determine what issues and alternatives will be addressed. The draft document is published in November 2009 and undergoes a public comment period. In February 2010 the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency rates the document poorly and recommends that a revised or supplemental Environmental Impact Statement be developed with additional information.