U.S. Army Corps revokes permit for NorthMet Mine, previously known as Polymet

Published: Jun. 6, 2023 at 4:12 PM CDT
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HOYT LAKES, MN. (Northern News Now) - A northern Minnesota copper-nickel mine proposal has had its permit revoked after it was previously suspended.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, St. Paul District announced Tuesday that it is revoking the previously suspended NewRange Copper Nickel Company’s permit for the NorthMet mine.

This comes a few months after PolyMet and Teck American, Inc. partnered to become NewRange.

The partnership was made as both companies were exploring copper-nickel mining opportunities in northern Minnesota.

Original permitting processes for the proposed NorthMet copper-nickel mine near Hoyt Lakes started years ago with PolyMet.

Now after years of debate, the Corps revoked the NorthMet permits.

The Clean Water Act Section 404 permit was revoked since the Corps says it does not ensure compliance with the water quality requirements of the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa.

It is stated the decision was made after thoroughly considering all information provided to the district at a public hearing hosted in May of 2022.

This included looking into the evaluation and recommendations provided by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and information provided by the Fond du Lac Band (Band) under their respective water quality authorities granted by the Clean Water Act.

In addition, the Corps looked into the information provided by NewRange Copper Nickel Company and the public.

On March 21, 2019, the Corps completed its Record of Decision and issued a Section 404 Clean Water Act individual permit for regulated activities at the NorthMet project.

At that time, Corps officials determined the project was compliant with all applicable federal laws and regulations.

However, on March 17, 2021, the Corps then suspended the permit at the request of the EPA.

This was done while the EPA considered the effects of the project under Section 401(a)(2) of the Clean Water Act on water quality downstream in the state of Wisconsin and within the Band’s Reservation.

After reviewing the project, on June 4, 2021, the EPA issued a “may affect” determination to the Band and the state of Wisconsin.

The Band then submitted an objection to the permit and its “will affect” determination on Aug. 3, 2021, and requested the Corps hold a public hearing.

Upon request, the Corps held a public hearing in May 2022, to seek information on whether the permit should be re-issued, revoked, or modified with new conditions to ensure compliance with the Band’s applicable water quality requirements.

During the hearing, the Band provided information on its determination that the NorthMet project will violate its water quality requirements.

The EPA then agreed with the Band and recommended the Corps not reinstate the suspended permit.

NewRange officials provided information to support their view that the project would not violate the Band’s water quality and requested the Corps reinstate the suspended permit.

In addition, the Corps received verbal and written comments from the public before making a decision.

Corps officials released a statement explaining the decision:

“Given the Corps’ jurisdiction under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act, the Band and EPA’s water quality authority provided in the Clean Water Act, and the absence of sufficient permit conditions to ensure compliance with the applicable downstream water quality requirements of the Band as required by Section 401(a)(2) of the Clean Water Act, the Corps must revoke the suspended permit.”

NewRange Copper Nickel LLC (“NewRange”) released the following statement in response to the decision:

“Today’s decision by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is reversal of thoroughly reviewed water quality data that has been collected and assessed over the last decade. The planned NorthMet Project development is protective of water, air and other resources and can produce copper, nickel and platinum group metals (PGM) in a responsible and sustainable manner. In fact, the project clearly shows that through its proposed water treatment and management processes, it will remove more than 1,400 tons of sulfate per year from the St. Louis River system, the result of historic iron ore mining operations. It also will lead to a net reduction in pre-existing mercury loading to the river system.

The Corps’ decision is one that requires careful review, determined action, and further engagement with regulators and all key stakeholders. NewRange is reviewing all of our options as we chart a course forward for the development of the NorthMet Project in a safe and environmentally responsible manner that considers NewRange’s communities of interest. The NorthMet Project is a well-considered and thoroughly evaluated development opportunity that will deliver high-demand minerals that are critical to the nation’s and the world’s transition to clean energy and clean mobility technologies, and the promise of jobs and significant economic benefits for northeastern Minnesota.”

Congressman Pete Stauber, who represents Hermantown, released the following statement after the decision:

“The Biden Administration continues their assault on northern Minnesota and our way of life. We are on the cusp of delivering for the world and our country an ethically and responsibly sourced supply of these greatly needed critical minerals for our everyday life. Again today, this activist administration took another step toward killing yet another domestic mining project in the largest copper-nickel find in the world. The activists in Washington took away a Clean Water Act permit, previously granted by experts at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and in essence, gave a gift to the Chinese Communist Party. Because of this, America will be more reliant on China, which has no environmental or labor standards and uses minerals sourced by child labor.

Today’s political decision highlights the need for serious permitting reform to limit frivolous lawsuits and modernize the Clean Water Act permitting process. I will continue to lead in this fight for this project and many others and to ensure my constituents’ bright future becomes a reality for northern Minnesota. We need to end Joe Biden’s mining policy of ‘anywhere but America, any worker but American.’ The United States can be critical mineral dominant while having a clean environment. Let’s make this a reality.”

Representative Dave Lislegard, a DFLer representing Aurora, released the following statement:

“I’m stunned and furious at today’s ruling which completely blindsided us. In issuing this ruling, the Biden administration has ignored nearly two decades of positive movement by Polymet – jumping through every single hoop – to earn approval for the project based on science and the law. This administration has turned its back on us on the Iron Range to side with environmental activists who’ve demonstrated they couldn’t care less about where we source the materials needed to take on necessary new green energy initiatives, nor about our livelihoods in northern Minnesota.

For me, making this project become reality goes well beyond politics. My grandfather helped build Erie Mining Company which became LTV Steel. I worked there up until its last day of operation. My grandfather, father, brother, and uncles worked there. Since that plant closed, I’ve devoted my heart, soul, and professional life to bringing new jobs to our region that can sustain families and our neighborhoods. As mayor, city council member, president of RAMS, board member of Jobs for Minnesota, as a state representative, and as a citizen of the Iron Range, I’ve done everything I could to get this project across the finish line. To see President Biden – who has done so much over his career to support American workers and American jobs – allow this permit to be revoked is a deep betrayal.

The existing LTV site today is a brownfield. The state-of-the-art water treatment plant proposed by NewRange would clean that up and result in a net decrease of sulfate and mercury being released downstream. This project will help the environment, not impair it.

I’m most disappointed for the people of the Iron Range, who have rallied around this proposal for years, and who deserve a future with good-paying jobs with strong local communities where they can raise their families. I’m thankful to everyone – Democrats, Republicans, Independents, union members, and business leaders – who has worked so hard to make this a reality.”

Representative Roger Skraba, a republican representing Ely, released this statement:

“I am incredibly disappointed by today’s decision from the Biden Administration to revoke these previously issued Clean Water Act permits. Time and time again, the Administration appears to be putting the demands of activists ahead of the rigorous permitting that has been in place for years. This proposed mine had already received these necessary permits and was preparing to move forward with a project that would not only employ hundreds of Iron Rangers, but would have made sure that America could source these critical minerals domestically. Now, our country will once again have to rely on an unpredictable global supply chain and foreign nations that employ child labor and have zero environmental standards for the copper, nickel, and more that we need to build modern technologies.”

Representative Spencer Igo, a Republican representing Wabana Township, released the following statement after the decision:

“Today’s move by the Biden Administration is the latest example of their efforts to destroy domestic mining projects here in Minnesota and around the country. This anti-science, anti-American, and anti-worker decision by the Administration is shameful and will force our country to deepen our dependence on hostile foreign nations to source these critical minerals. It is time to put science first in these permitting decisions instead of leaving them up to the whims of radical activists in Washington. Despite today’s setback, I will never stop fighting for the Northland and for American workers. Let’s build the green economy of tomorrow right here on the Iron Range.”

The Fond du Lac Band of the Lake Superior Chippewa Vice-Chairman Roger Smith released the following statement:

“Today the Corps made the right decision to permanently revoke the Section 404 Permit issued to PolyMet Mining Inc. The Corps’ decision validates the Band’s significant and long-standing concerns with the Project and is consistent with both the Band’s and EPA’s scientific and technical determinations that the Project will violate the Band’s downstream water quality standards. The Corps’ decision protects the Band’s downstream waters as well as the waters of downstream communities. The science simply does not support PolyMet’s claims that the NorthMet Project will not degrade water quality.”

The Fond du Lac Band of the Lake Superior Chippewa Chairman Kevin Dupuis Sr. released this statement:

“The Corps decision was the right one and upholds the trust responsibility and the treaty promises the United States made to the Band. Through the 1854 Treaty, the United States government promised us that our Reservation which is located downstream from the Project would provide a permanent homeland for our people forever. We were also promised the ability to exercise our traditional hunting, fishing, and gathering rights within our aboriginal lands that were ceded under the 1854 Treaty where the Project will be located. Despite these solemn promises by the United States, our Reservation and our Ceded Territory lands have been under attack from pollution for decades. Today’s decision protects the rights and resources promised to us under the Treaty.”

However, the decision does not take away the ability for NewRange Copper Nickel LLC from submitting a new permit application that will meet all applicable water quality requirements for its project.

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