No more EIS delays by state

Mesabi Daily News
September 27, 2008

Another deadline for the draft Environmental Impact Statement for the PolyMet copper/nickel/precious metals project – the end of September – has come and gone without the document yet released.

And so a new deadline – this time the end of October has been set. This should be the last deadline for this draft EIS, especially considering that environmental assessment work for the project has now exceeded 4 1/2 years. It is way past time that this draft EIS be completed and put into the public forum.

Minnesota Department of Natural Resources officials understandably want the draft EIS for what would be the first non-ferrous mining project to be as complete as possible. And that is a good thing, as some environmental groups are already lining up to challenge any non-ferrous mining. So it's certainly important that a highly thoughtful and probing draft EIS is done.

But we need to move from the paralysis by analysis for this mining project to be located in the footprint of the former LTV Mining Co. site near Hoyt Lakes.

This $602 million project is vital to the future economic health of the Iron Range. It will provide 400 good paying permanent jobs, 1.5 million man hours of construction work and more than 500 spin-off jobs.

PolyMet investors – and this is a project funded solely by the private sector – have shown remarkable patience with the laborious regulatory process in Minnesota. And another 30 days added on to the draft EIS process will not be a deal breaker.

But patience is not unlimited, especially when you have millions of dollars on the line. So this had better be the last 30 days of draft EIS study by the state.

Why did ‘SNL’ mention a non-ferrous mining skit?

Mesabi Daily News
September 25, 2008

Non-ferrous mining in Northeastern Minnesota made national news earlier this week in a most curious way – through a spokesperson for the Al Franken for U.S. Senate campaign linking it to a possible "Saturday Night Live" skit in the satirical mind of the Democratic candidate.

The Iron Range, which currently has ventures for several non-ferrous copper/nickel/precious metals mining operations near Aurora, Hoyt Lakes and Babbitt in various stages of development, was inserted by a Franken campaign official into a Politico story that dealt with an SNL skit last Saturday night that mocked Republican presidential candidate John McCain.

The Politico story reported that Franken had called and talked to Lorne Michaels, a friend of the candidate from his SNL days, last week and mentioned his thought about the potential humor in McCain using the disclaimer, "I'm John McCain and I approve this message," in his political TV ads. Michaels, SNL executive producer and creator, then talked to a writer at the longtime NBC comedy show and the skit was born. In the Politico story on Monday, Colleen Murray of the Franken campaign in Minnesota was asked about the candidate's involvement in the skit's evolution. Politico is a Washington, D.C.-based political journalism organization that distributes its content via television, the Internet, newspaper, and radio.

"Al has been friends with Lorne Michaels for over 30 years, and Lorne thought Al's personal experience was funny enough for a SNL skit," (Colleen) Murray said in a statement. "Sure, Al keeps in touch with old friends but unless the skit is about non-ferrous mining on Minnesota's Iron Range, Al's not in the business of developing skits anymore," the Politico story reads in part.

If there had been any discussion within the Franken campaign or by the candidate about a skit dealing with non-ferrous mining on the Iron Range it's highly likely the effort would be to skewer such mining. The non-ferrous mining issue on the Range has been a tough one for Franken. In an interview with the Mesabi Daily News several months ago, Franken said he could not offer support of the PolyMet non-ferrous mining project slated for the footprint of the former LTV Mining Co. until after a draft Environmental Impact Statement was released.

He has since voiced moderate support for the mining projects that would create hundreds of permanent, construction and spin-off jobs. The $602 million PolyMet project alone would generate 400 permanent jobs, 1.5 million hours of construction work and more than 500 spin-off jobs. The draft EIS for PolyMet is now scheduled for release at the end of October.

While Franken has the backing of most Iron Range DFL lawmakers, state Rep. David Dill of Crane Lake is not on board, in part because of concerns about Franken's support of mining and other land use issues, including non-ferrous mining. State Sen. Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, in July offered a tepid endorsement of Franken.

Three calls were put in to Murray at the Franken campaign office in the Twin Cities and messages left on Monday and Tuesday to get her response as to why non-ferrous mining was even mentioned as a possible skit idea by Franken. None were returned by Murray.

However, on Tuesday, Franken campaign Communications Director Andy Barr did call to speak for Murray. He said that Murray was trying to point out that Franken is only interested in Minnesota-specific issues.

"Irony was inherent in that statement. It could have been any issue that matters to Minnesotans. In no way did we intend to make an important issue on the Iron Range part of the story," said Barr, who added that Franken believes bringing jobs "to the Iron Range is the top priority."

Franken then called later on Tuesday from Washington to voice his support of PolyMet.

"We've got to do PolyMet and to do it right. It will meet the strictest standards. The number one issue is jobs," the candidate said, who added that he was taking his lead on the issue from Iron Range DFL legislators Rep. Tom Rukavina and Sen. David Tomassoni, along with Democratic Minnesota U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar.

Franken said he couldn't comment on the non-ferrous statement in the Politico story by one of his staffers because "I was not around when it was said and I don't know the context of it."

Franken's opponent, Republican U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman, said he wouldn't respond to the SNL skit that was done with Franken input or the non-ferrous comment of a staffer. "Minnesotans will decide if he's just trying to keep his other job intact when this gig (campaign) is over," Coleman said in a telephone interview from Washington on Wednesday.

"But here's the question. There are a number of folks and environmental groups questioning non-ferrous mining. I think it's a tremendous opportunity. I've met with the folks at PolyMet and Franconia Minerals and Teckcominco on these projects.

"If Al Franken can't buck the radical environmentalists on drilling on our outer continental shelf when 70 percent of Americans want to do that, then how can he buck them on non-ferrous mining. He claims to now be a champion of mining, yet has not had the courage to step forward on the drilling issue. So I think it's fair to question his commitment on mining," Coleman said.


PolyMet draft EIS delayed a month

Mesabi Daily News
September 24, 2008

HOYT LAKES – Release of the state draft Environmental Impact Statement for the PolyMet copper/nickel/precious metals project has been delayed a month, PolyMet and Minnesota Department of Natural Resources officials announced on Wednesday.

The EIS was scheduled to be completed by Sept. 30 and ready for public comment by mid-October. It is now set for release before the end of October. PolyMet investors have already spent more than $15 million on the environmental review process that has now been ongoing for 4 1/2 years.

The $602 million project, which will be located in the footprint of the former LTV Mining Co. site near Hoyt Lakes, is expected to produce more than 400 jobs with a $40 million annual payroll, along with more than 500 spin-off jobs. It will also require more than 1.5 million man hours of construction work. An expanded analysis of water quality predictions has been delivered to the DNR to be included in the draft EIS.

"The additional data generated by the analysis should reassure regulators and the public that the project will meet environmental standards," Joe Scipioni, PolyMet president and CEO, said in a news release.

"We appreciate the level of effort that PolyMet and its contractors have undertaken to complete this analysis. The DNR remains committed to complete the EIS in cooperation with the other governmental organizations as soon as possible," said DNR Commissioner Mark Holsten.

Once completed and reviewed by other government entities, the draft EIS will be published in the state's Environmental Quality Board Monitor, which will mark the start of a three-day state and 45-day federal public comment period.

The state adopted recent guidelines recommending that any EIS include a detailed statistical uncertainty analysis of water quality estimates.

"The results of the additional analysis confirm the previous work done by our team of world-wide experts, and verify that PolyMet's submissions and predictions are very conservative and protective of the environment. The work proved to be more complex than we expected, taking more time, but the effort was very worthwhile. We are pleased that the state remains committed to completing the draft EIS in the same amount of time as it committed to in August," Scipioni said in a news release.

Mine proposal is good for workers, good for Superior Forest

Minneapolis Star Tribune
September 10, 2008

As mayors in northern Minnesota, we represent our communities and we care about the environment. The PolyMet mining project proposed in our region has caused some confusion, so we would like to help set the record straight.

PolyMet owns the mineral rights to 6,700 acres of land on the edge of Superior National Forest. This property is not prime forestland. It is bordered by an open pit iron mine, the old LTV taconite plant, a set of railroad tracks and power transmission lines.

It is mining land in the heart of mining country.

PolyMet plans to use this land to open Minnesota's first copper/nickel mine, creating 400 good-paying permanent jobs and bringing long-term economic stability to nearby communities like ours.

The U.S. Forest Service would like to sell this land to PolyMet and use the proceeds to purchase higher-quality land that is better for the integrity of the Superior National Forest. Under federal law, however, the Forest Service can only do a land swap, exchanging the 6,700 acres for equivalent property owned by PolyMet.

A land swap is not the optimal solution because the Forest Service would not be able to choose the best land. Why should it be forced to exchange one piece of mediocre property for another? There's a better option.

Rep. Jim Oberstar, as well as Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Norm Coleman, are supporting bipartisan legislation that would strengthen the hand of the U.S. Forest Service in striking the best balance between protecting the natural environment and providing the opportunity for jobs and living wages for the residents of the region.

This legislation is designed to help with a specific issue: Because PolyMet already owns the mineral rights to the 6,700 acres, the Forest Service would be allowed to sell the land at fair market value, then use the money to purchase new land to serve the best interests of the National Forest. For example, there are scattered parcels of private land currently within the forest that could be bought up.

The proposed legislation does not provide any special treatment to PolyMet. Before the land sale with the Forest Service can be completed, the project must satisfy all relevant environmental protection requirements.

The proposed land sale is a win-win deal. It is not about the environment or jobs. It is about the environment and jobs. It will expand and enhance the Superior National Forest; it will ensure that PolyMet complies with all state and federal environmental requirements, and it will create hundreds of permanent jobs. It will allow us to pass along a healthy environment and a strong economy to our kids.

Marlene Pospeck is mayor of Hoyt Lakes; Mary Hess is mayor of Aurora, and Glenn Anderson is mayor of Babbitt.

PolyMet’s new partner shows faith in project

Mesabi Daily News
September 6, 2008

The PolyMet non-ferrous mining project at the former LTV site near Hoyt Lakes received one heckuva shot of confidence – not to mention $50 million – last week.

The $602 million copper/nickel/precious metals project that would create 400 permanent jobs, at least an equal number of spin-off jobs and more than 1.5 million man hours of construction work has a new partner and investor. Switzerland-based Glencore – a global supplier of commodities and raw materials with U.S. offices in Connecticut – will put $50 million into PolyMet, with an immediate $25 million infusion and the other $25 million at the completion of the Environmental Impact Statement that would pave the way for final permitting to allow production to move ahead in 2009/2010.

That commitment by Glencore is welcome indeed for the project and the Iron Range. And it really speaks to the soundness of the PolyMet venture and the people behind the initiative. After all, the EIS, which PolyMet pays for in total and is already a $15 million expenditure with the meter still running, is now more than three years in the making. And that's just for the draft EIS, not the final product.

We fully understand, appreciate and support vigilant Department of Natural Resources oversight of any mining project. After all, we are all environmentalists.

And we also realize that this is the first non-ferrous one in Minnesota that will lay the regulatory foundation for others, including Franconia Minerals, to follow. So yes, special care and very detailed attention is definitely prudent.

But three years? Enough is enough is enough. The message that sends to businesses that want to create jobs in our area, our state is that you have to wait and wait and wait to start providing payroll checks for workers who have families in our communities.

Is it any wonder why Minnesota too often gives off an anti-business scent?

DNR officials say the draft EIS will be ready at the end of this month and out for public scrutiny by mid-October. Release dates in the past have been extended. That should not happen this time.

Glencore officials have shown a lot of faith in the PolyMet project. So, too, should the state of Minnesota.

PolyMet gets investor for copper, precious metals operation

Duluth News Tribune
September 4, 2008

PolyMet Mining Corp. has signed a $50 million deal with Glencore AG to invest in Polymet's proposed copper and precious metals mine and processing operation on the Iron Range.

Under the deal announced Thursday, Glencore will invest $50 million into PolyMet through a convertible loan in exchange for Polymet stock.

The first $25 million is available immediately as the company continues to advance through environmental review for the mine. Another $25 million would come upon publication of the final Environmental Impact Statement.

Glencore also has agreed to buy all of Polymet's concentrates, metal and other products at prevailing rates for five years.

The proposed mine near Babbitt and processing plant near Hoyt Lakes are expected to cost about $600 million and probably would provide about 400 jobs.

PolyMet has been recruiting investors as it moves through the environmental review for the operation. Key environmental issues include control of acidic runoff common with mining metals from sulfur-bearing rock.

Polymet hopes to see a draft EIS by late October with a final review by year's end. The company then must obtain several permits from state and federal agencies. The company also must secure access to land where the mine is proposed. While the company has mineral rights to the site, it does not yet have control of the surface land.

Polymet would be the state's first copper and precious metals mine. Company officials hope to begin operations in 2010.

Glencore is a privately held Swiss-based company. It is a major supplier of raw materials and commodities to industrial consumers.