Calls to “respect the process” have been frequent in the PolyMet regulatory review. Also frequent, however, have been simultaneous attempts to weaken or circumvent that process. These attempts are in the context of a complicated regulatory and political context subject to powerful corporate influence (known as regulatory capture), and the dual mission of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to both promote and regulate mining. The result has been inadequate protections for Minnesotans from permanent pollution associated with this new-to-Minnesota type of mining. Examples of concerns about the process are below.
Transparency. In 2011, a law was passed in Minnesota to fast track proposed copper-sulfide mining by "streamlining" the environmental review process. "Streamlining" allows company applicants to prepare their own environmental review. When companies gather information, much of it can be labeled proprietary and agencies must then either rely on figures provided by the company, or perform costly duplicate studies. Meanwhile, citizens lose access to reliable technical information and the company's own assertions are often taken at face value.
Consent. The concerns of downstream communities and the sovereign Fond du Lac have not been elevated in this process. Ours are the communities that would be most impacted in the near certain event of pollution. Rather than encouraging participation of area elected officials, those officials instead have been subject to significant pressure and silencing. Notably, the Carlton City Council has passed a resolution requesting a “prove it first” moratorium on sulfide mining. Whatever the formal requirements in the process, respecting all voices means elevating the voices of those who would be most impacted.
Taxpayer liabilities. The draft water quality permit violates Minnesota law 6132.3200 which requires that “the mining area shall be closed so that it is stable, free of hazards, minimizes hydrologic impacts...and is maintenance free.” This rule, if followed, would protect the public from unreasonable risk, which is why the Center for Science in Public Participation categorizes mines that require active water treatment at closure as “No-Go” projects.
Avoiding the protection of the Weeks Act. The Federal Weeks Act, meant to protect the headwaters of rivers and watersheds, prohibits strip mining on US Forest Service land purchased under the Act. A USFS 6700-acre land exchange with PolyMet would void environmental protection in place since 1911.
Eliminating protections for Minnesota’s wild rice. Eliminating Minnesota’s 1973 sulfate standard of 10 mg/L would violate the Clean Water Act, weaken protections for Minnesota’s people and wild rice, and principally benefit corporations including Glencore/PolyMet. Recent interest in eliminating the standard relates directly to PolyMet’s promise that it would build and operate a reverse osmosis facility to treat sulfate pollution, an expensive water treatment option necessary to reduce sulfate in mine effluent to a level that meets the standard.
Endangering Species. The PolyMet mine would destroy nearly 4,000 acres of habitat for threatened Canada lynx, undermining the endangered species act, the basis of a lawsuit by the Center for Biological Diversity.
Endangering Minnesotans’ health. An independent Health Impact Assessment requested by medical professionals, including the Minnesota Academy of Family Physicians, was declined by DNR and MPCA officials, even as these agencies officially espouse a "health in all policies" approach to governance. Impacts to workers and downstream residents from exposure to contaminated drinking water and unhealthy air therefore remain unknown. Pregnant and nursing mothers, infants, and young children would be most impacted by exposure to neurotoxic heavy metals, such as mercury, that affect brain development.