By Lori Andresen
In 2010, the Environmental Protection Agency rated the draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for PolyMet, a proposed toxic sulfide mine located between Babbitt and Hoyt Lakes, Minnesota, as environmentally unsatisfactory and inadequate. PolyMet’s defective mine plan delayed the environmental review process. According to the draft EIS, the proposed strip mine would violate the Endangered Species Act by destroying critical habitat for lynx and wolves, fail to meet water quality standards, violate wetlands laws, and violate protections for Superior National Forest, as the DEIS stated that the mineral rights leased by PolyMet do not allow open pit mining on National Forest land. PolyMet was required to do additional groundwater and other testing and to prepare a supplemental EIS addressing these inadequacies, which is expected out this summer.
In early 2013, the EPA issued its own rule when the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s proposal did not adequately reduce haze in Voyageurs National Park and the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.
However, on March 12, 8th District Congressman Rick Nolan asked the EPA to allow a longer time table for the taconite industry to meet haze reduction standards. On March 13, when asked about the proposed PolyMet mine waiting for approval by the EPA, Governor Mark Dayton said he would like to abolish the Environmental Protection Agency.
Northeast Minnesota has long been known for its intact forests, clean waters and air. Haze not only obstructs the view. Particulate matter is a health issue, aggravating or contributing to heart attacks, asthma, bronchitis, emphysema, and other respiratory illnesses. Taconite workers are highly exposed to particulate matter, and northeast Minnesota has high levels of heart disease, cancer, and asthma.
The EPA was created to protect human health and the environment, and it is disappointing to see our elected leaders fail to acknowledge this important work. In the 40 years since the Clean Air Act was passed, the EPA has reduced dangerous air pollutants that cause smog, acid rain, and lead poisoning more than 60 percent. Through the Clean Water Act, the EPA has kept billions of pounds of pollution out of our lakes and rivers, improving the health of our waterways. And the agency has played an integral role in revitalizing brownfield sites in low-income and communities of color, making neighborhoods safer for families and holding polluters accountable.
Call Gov. Dayton at 800-657-3717 and Rep. Nolan at 202-225-6211. Tell them we need a strong EPA to protect the health of our workers, our residents, and our environment. Then, let us know that you made the call.
Lori Andresen is Mining Chair for the Sierra Club North Star Chapter.