Posted at: 02/11/2014 5:14 PM
By: Renee Passal
Minnesota legislators learned more about planned financial assurances for possible cleanup and reclamation of the Polymet mine project at a hearing Tuesday.
In the 1990s, lawmakers created financial assurance requirements holding companies responsible for cleanup and reclamation costs. Supporters of the project say, "trust the system." Opponents are skeptical.
In front of a packed hearing room, the DNR started the House Environment Committee hearing with an explanation of what the agency will mandate before any permits are issued. Jess Richards, director of the DNR's Division of Lands and Minerals Contacts, answered 16 pre-written questions and said they are doing their homework.
"The DNR has access to over 200 mine sites in the western United States. In addition, we are also reviewing financial assurance from across the nation," Richardson said.
He said a trust funds, managed by multiple banks or even the state, are a potential idea.
Some lawmakers seemed skeptical about DNR's answers and data.
"I haven't heard any set aside of money for what happens if something happens to this resource that is going to become more valued," said Rep. Jean Wagenius (DFL-Minneapolis), the chair of the committee.
Others, like Rep. David Dill (DFL-Crane Lake), seemed satisfied with the DNR's answers.
Polymet plans to mine copper nickel and other precious metals near Babbitt and then process them in Hoyt Lakes at the site of the old LTV plant. Potential cleanup costs have not been nailed down yet, but officials acknowledge it could be in the hundreds of millions of dollars. The final numbers will be decided once Polymet applies for their permits.
After the DNR, there was time for more than a dozen people to speak about the issue. People from the Northland and the Twin Cities spoke on both sides of the issue. Evironmentalists say they don't want the taxpayer saddled with the costs.
"Our big concern is that there are too many unknowns regarding the mine itself to really know what the true costs are to the taxpayer," said Luther Dale of the Sierra Club.
But mining advocates say financial assurance works.
"The states and the federal government require annual reviews of financial assurance to make sure the amounts are correct. Anytime there's a modification of a plan of operation, they recalculate the financial assurance," said Laura Skaer with American Exploration and Mining.
No legislation has been introduced in St. Paul about the project. That promped one member of the committee to sharply question the point of the hearing.