Political Matters
Political Matters: Next steps for PolyMet
Friday, April 04 2014
Written by Mordecai Specktor,
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In March, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency weighed in on the Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement on the PolyMet sulfide mine, near Babbit, in northeastern Minnesota. The EPA gave the copper-nickel mining project – which is called NorthMet – a rating of “EC-2,” with the “EC” standing for “environmental concerns.”

“The rating means that federal regulators still have concerns about potential environmental effects of the proposed $650 million project and that they want to see more analysis and a clearer explanation of how pollution problems will be resolved,” the Star Tribune noted, regarding the EC-2 grade. “Specifically, they asked for more detail on issues that have dogged the project for months: how long contaminated water will have to be treated in future decades and how PolyMet’s ‘financial assurance’ will protect the state against unforeseen financial and environmental costs.”

The EPA’s recent rating is an improvement over the failing grade the agency gave the NorthMet project in October 2009, which sent PolyMet Mining, a Canadian-based corporation, back to the drawing board. Four years later, the SDEIS came out. In my February column, I reported on the public hearing held in St. Paul (other hearings took place in Duluth and Aurora) and noted that the Ojibwe bands up north have expressed concerns with baseline data about water flow from the proposed mine site. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources responded to the tribal concerns, and stated that it is “reviewing new stream flow data for the Partridge River.”

Political Matters: Mining in the Penokee Hills
Monday, March 10 2014
Written by Mordecai Specktor,
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Mining in the Penokee Hills

I’ve devoted several recent “Political Matters” columns to the environmental threat posed by sulfide mining in northeastern Minnesota, the proposed PolyMet mine. This month, I’ll change things up and write about taconite mining. Specifically, Gogebic Taconite, LLC (GTAC) is considering developing what reportedly could become the largest open pit mine in North America.

GTAC’s big dig, just south of the Bad River reservation, would be 4.5 miles long, 1.5 mile wide and 1,000 feet deep. The Wisconsin DNR states that, if developed, “the project would likely include an open pit mining operation, a plant site and waste disposal facilities.”

The GTAC project, as you might imagine, has sparked controversy across northern Wisconsin. I talked recently with Cyrus Hester, an environmental specialist with the Bad River Band of the Lake Superior Tribe of Chippewa.

Political Matters: Sulfide mining debated in St. Paul
Friday, February 07 2014
Written by Mordecai Specktor,
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Sulfide mining debated in St. Paul

Hope Flanagan, of Minneapolis, first spoke in Ojibwe when she addressed the large throng in the St. Paul RiverCentre, at the public meeting on the Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the proposed NorthMet mining project.

“I want to speak for our children,” Flanagan said, shifting to the English language. She explained that Indian prophecies speak of the Seventh Generation, the children of the future who will be affected by the decisions we make today. She added that women have a special role in protecting the natural world. “All you women out there, this is our job … We’ve got to have clean water, clean food. Let’s start thinking about our children.”

Political Matters: Comment on PolyMet's plan
Thursday, January 09 2014
Written by Mordecai Specktor,
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Comment on PolyMet’s plan

You can download a copy of the new environmental review of the proposed NorthMet copper-nickel mining project at the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources website ( ). It’s a big file, 136 megabytes and the DNR warns that it “could take time to download.”

In late December, I talked with Betsy Daub, policy director for Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness (, a group that has been trying to raise public awareness about the environmental dangers from sulfide mining.

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