REGIONAL— Gov. Tim Walz is “pretty firm” in his belief that Glencore should be included as a named party on mining permits issued on behalf of PolyMet Mining’s planned copper-nickel mine near …
REGIONAL— Gov. Tim Walz is “pretty firm” in his belief that Glencore should be included as a named party on mining permits issued on behalf of PolyMet Mining’s planned copper-nickel mine near Hoyt Lakes. That’s according to his spokesperson Teddy Tschann, who spoke to the Timberjay this week.
The governor recently met with representatives from both PolyMet and Glencore, the Swiss-based commodities brokerage that operates mines around the world. Glencore acquired a 71-percent stake in PolyMet back in June, and that move has increased pressure on state regulators and the governor to add Glencore to the state-issued permits. So far, Glencore has not committed to take on the responsibility, under which the company would potentially be required to pledge some assets to cover eventual clean-up and mine shutdown costs.
At the same time, Tschann said the governor asked that Glencore commit to abiding by a project labor agreement signed several years ago by PolyMet as well as allowing a union workforce if workers there support unionization. Glencore has a reputation elsewhere for hostility to unions but has noted that many of the workers in their mines are covered by collective bargaining agreements.
Walz described Glencore’s response to his requests as “measured,” but Tschann said the governor remains confident that the two companies will eventually agree to at least some of what Walz is proposing. “I don’t anticipate they would completely reject all of his asks,” said Tschann.
At the same time, Tschann said the governor is process-oriented and understands that more than a decade of work by both state regulators and PolyMet went into the environmental review and permitting. “He’s not going to come in and shut the project down,” said Tschann.
“If it can be done safely, he favors it.”
The meeting with PolyMet and Glencore came in the wake of last week’s Court of Appeals decision to put a hold on PolyMet’s water discharge permit over questions about whether the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency sought to withhold critical comments by the federal Environmental Protection Agency from the administrative record that courts use to review agency decisions. Those allegations, supported at least partially by a suggestive email leaked by a union representing EPA workers, are currently the subject of both federal and state review, as well as an inquiry by the Ramsey County District Court. The court is expected to keep the hold, or stay, on the PolyMet permit until the court completes its inquiry into the MPCA’s actions.
Legislators push back
A bipartisan group of 70 lawmakers, mostly Republican, added their own take on the debate in an Aug. 6 letter to the governor. The missive was a direct response to a July 24 letter signed by 18 DFL legislators last month that asked Walz to put a hold on all of the state-issued permits for PolyMet until the state could review questions about the MPCA’s permitting process as well as concerns raised in recent months over the safety of the tailings basin dam. Those concerns came in the wake of two prominent tailings dam collapses in Brazil that killed hundreds of people.
In the most recent letter, which was also signed by Iron Range DFLers David Tomassoni, Julie Sandstede, Rob Ecklund, and Dave Lislegard, lawmakers said they “would not stand idle while misinformed legislators levy false attacks against valued industries in our state, like mining.”
The letter likened the earlier letter from legislators to “throwing sand in the gears” in a last minute attempt to derail the mine project.
The lawmakers vigorously defended the MPCA. “The leaked emails mentioned in the allegations represent a snapshot in time during the drafting of the MPCA permit and in no way discredit the final permit since it met the requirements of the law and EPA did not object to its issuance,” the lawmakers wrote. They also called concerns about the safety of the tailings basin dam “naïve.”
“Tailings basins of similar design are ubiquitous across Minnesota’s Iron Range and have never failed and are found by the thousands in other responsible mining operations across the world.”
The lawmakers also defended the financial assurance established by the state. “In Minnesota, state regulators control the financial assurance so any shareholder or ownership changes do not impact it. In fact, this is the very point of financial assurance laws in Minnesota.”
The letter is just the latest sign of the intense pressure that the new DFL governor is facing over the controversial mine proposal. The DFL, in particular, is deeply divided over the mining of sulfide-based ore in water-rich northeastern Minnesota. While the party has long been supportive of taconite mining, copper-nickel mining poses additional risks to water quality given the differences in the geology of the rock in which the copper, nickel, and other metals are found.