When we started preparing for the NorthMet project more than a decade ago, we committed to doing the project right. Our ESG materiality assessment in 2022 identified and prioritized the ESG factors with the greatest potential to impact company value and our ability to achieve our strategic objectives over the short, medium and long term.
The ESG materiality assessment identified our most material ESG factors based on an evaluation of the inherent risk they posed to PolyMet, considering potential magnitude of impact and the likelihood of occurrence. The results were validated by our senior management team.
Approach to ESG Materiality Assessment
The ESG factors identified as material in our 2022 ESG materiality assessment are identified below. The factors in bold are those with the largest potential impact to the company:
Because of the evolving and complex nature of ESG risks and opportunities, our ESG materiality assessment is reviewed annually to ensure our priorities reflect the factors with the greatest potential to impact company value. The factors identified as part of the ESG materiality assessment will form the foundation of our approach to ESG, including our ESG strategy and future reporting to key stakeholders.
The site was used to process iron ore, therefore water quality issues from legacy mining operations must be addressed. Our treatment plan brings the facility up to modern standards, resulting in a net reduction of mercury and sulfate levels in the St. Louis River even when we are in full production. The bottom line is, we’ll leave the water better than we found it.
Ensure Tailings Dam Stability
We have solid plans for tailings storage. After considerable research and testing, independent experts concluded that the existing tailings basin is suitable for continued use. We will add to the existing structure, applying enhanced engineering controls and new rock buttresses to the exterior face of the dam. Recent tailings damn failures in Brazil have brought attention to tailings basins worldwide and in Minnesota. Read how PolyMet’s basin is different.
Manage On-Site Water
With every mining project comes waste products including used water, but modern control technology allows us collect and keep untreated water on-site using liners, dams, berms, underground walls made of betonite and other controls until it can be treated to meet standards and then discharged. When we’re done mining, we will build a permanent, bentonite-lined pond at the tailings basin to contain water long-term and water treatment will continue as long as needed.
Focus on Reclamation
Early on in the project, we detailed our plans for closing and reclaiming the site after mining ends. It was a prerequisite for obtaining our permits to mine, and it is one of our primary priorities. Our long-term plans touch every aspect of our project, from water treatment and management of waste rock stockpiles to removing facilities and infrastructure and replanting vegetation. The goal of reclamation is to restore the site to as natural a state as possible. We plan to leave it better than we found it.
Producing essential metals and being a responsible steward of Minnesota’s water and air quality, lands and public health are our top priorities, and strict compliance with the conditions of all our permits dictate the minimum we do as an environmentally minded company.
Minimize Land Disturbance
Our impact to the land is minimized by operating our project in an existing mine district where we will utilize existing infrastructure including the tailings basin, rail lines, utilities, pipes and roads. This limits any new land disturbances and minimizes our overall impact.
Preserve Our Wetlands
The NorthMet Project is estimated to directly impact approximately 900 acres of wetlands, which we will mitigate or replace. Every acre of wetland disturbed by this project will be replaced with equal or more wetlands. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Minnesota Department of Natural Resources have determined final mitigation requirements as part of their permitting process and we will meet or exceed those strict requirements.
Financially Assure Closure and Reclamation
We are committed to protecting Minnesotan taxpayers throughout this process and have provided the state financial assurance in the form of a cash trust, bonds and letters of credit. State law mandates that a company must provide financial assurance before starting any construction or mining activity. This ensures the state has the resources available to close and reclaim the site and provide long-term water treatment at any given time if the company is unable to do so.
Support Conservation Efforts
We are always looking for partners at the local, state and national level who share our values for environmental stewardship. For example, we partner with Ducks Unlimited (DU) in support of its Living Lakes Initiative, a program that restores the health and functionality of Minnesota’s degraded shallow lakes and wetlands. Our funding helps DU, a leading conservation group, enhance wild rice in more than 100 shallow lakes and wetlands in Minnesota each year.
Respect Cultural Resources
Minnesota is home to natural resources that hold great cultural and historical significance to local Native American tribes. We have approached this project from a position of respect and appreciation. We are committed to listening, understanding and doing what’s necessary to continue to protect these important resources.
Be a Good Neighbor
There is nothing more important to us than the communities located near our project. We know that as a large job provider, it is our responsibility to be a good neighbor. We are dedicated to the region and the people who call it home. That’s why we support our employees’ volunteer work and service on boards and other community activities. We’re also involved in educational initiatives and every year, we award scholarships to two high school seniors in Minnesota who show an aptitude for and achievement in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math).