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March 13, 2014
Ms. Lisa Fay
Minnesota Department of Natural Resources
Division of Ecological and Water Resources
Environmental Review Unit
500 Lafayette Road, Box 25
St. Paul, MN 55155-4025
NorthMetSDEIS.dnr@state.mn.us

Re: Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and
U.S. Forest Service Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the
NorthMet Mining Project and Land Exchange

Dear Ms. Fay,

The Environmental Law & Policy Center (ELPC) appreciates the opportunity to comment on this
proposed mine that would have a number of significant environmental and societal impacts.
Because of the many significant impacts from the proposed project and flaws in the SDEIS, the
Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and U.S. Forest
Service should deny PolyMet’s state mining and Clean Water Act Section 404 wetlands permit
requests and the proposed land exchange.

The following are serious flaws in the project proposal and SDEIS analysis relating to water
quality, cumulative impacts analysis, project alternatives analysis and threatened and endangered
species impacts. ELPC also supports the comments of the Friends of the Boundary Waters
Wilderness, Conservation Minnesota, and the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy
that highlight these and other important issues in detail.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and U.S. Forest
Service should choose the No Action Alternative and deny the requested permits and land
exchange. At the very least, the agencies must update the SDEIS with required analysis that was
not included and correct other significant flaws identified in the comment process before the
agencies make a decision on the proposed mine.

 Water Quality. The SDEIS and mining plan do not reasonably assure that the mine will
not result in significant, irreversible water pollution. The SDEIS and mining plan model
mechanical or potentially other types of water treatment as being required for at least 200 years
at the mine site and at least 500 years at the plant site to prevent sulfate and other water pollution
to watersheds connected to Lake Superior. At ES-35. The SDEIS, in fact, concludes that “[i]t is
uncertain how long the project would require water treatment.” At ES-11. No plan is presented
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that reasonably assures that water treatment will be possible and effective for the stated hundreds
of years at a minimum.

Because of long timeframes that remain unknown, there is similarly no meaningful
demonstration that mine closure and reclamation will actually be possible. It is simply not
reasonable to determine – as the SDEIS does – that there are no significant sulfate and mercury
water quality impacts from the proposed mine when the proposed treatment is not demonstrated
as effective, when the water treatment relies on models that are projecting up to 500 years into
the future and when significant impacts are almost certain if the proposed treatment is not
effective for hundreds of years.

The agencies should deny the project on these water quality impacts alone. It is unreasonable to
approve a project that requires fully functioning water quality treatment for hundreds of years
into the future to avoid serious harm to Lake Superior and the watersheds adjacent to the mine.
Approval on these terms would constitute arbitrary and capricious agency action.

 Cumulative Effects Assessment. The SDEIS’ Cumulative Effects assessment is
incomplete because it fails to include an analysis of the cumulative impacts of regional mining
affecting Lake Superior. The National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) and the Minnesota
Environmental Protection Act (MEPA) require that cumulative effects analyses include other
past, present and reasonably foreseeable projects that, analyzed together, may have significant
impacts. The SDEIS’s Cumulative Effects assessment includes only mining and similar projects
in Northern Minnesota. At 6-15; Table 6-1. However, there are a number other current and
reasonably foreseeable mines near Lake Superior in Wisconsin and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.
For example, large-scale existing and proposed mines include the Penokee Mine in Wisconsin,
the Empire and Tilden Mines near Marquette, Michigan and the Eagle Mine in Michigan. These
mines’ cumulative impacts on Lake Superior and the watersheds on which it depends must be
analyzed before the agencies can determine that there are no significant cumulative effects to
Lake Superior.

 Alternatives. The SDEIS’ Alternatives analysis is too narrow. Both NEPA and MEPA
require that the agencies consider reasonable alternatives to the proposed action alternative and
that this analysis is included in the SDEIS. However, the SDEIS considers only one alternative
other than the No Action Alternative, and that alternative is just the same proposed mine, but
with a smaller land exchange acreage. At ES-42 – ES-43. Considering just one marginally
different alternative is too narrow of an alternatives range to satisfy NEPA and MEPA. The
SDEIS should consider additional reasonable proposed alternatives, such as an alternative
analyzing an underground mining proposal and an alternative requiring back-filling the mining
pits with waste-rock after closure.

 Endangered and At-Risk Species Impacts. The PolyMet mine would cause serious
harm to the Endangered Canada lynx and the SDEIS fails to analyze impacts to Minnesota’s
moose population. The PolyMet mine plan would degrade 1,450 acres of habitat designated as
Critical Habitat for the Canada lynx under the Endangered Species Act. SDEIS at 5-365. The
mine and its related activities would also further increase the fragmentation of remaining Canada
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lynx habitat. However, the SDEIS fails to include alternatives that would mitigate impacts, such
as alternatives minimizing new roads and traffic increases in Canada lynx habitat.

Moreover, the SDEIS does not address impacts to Minnesota’s moose population. Moose were
added to Minnesota’s list of Species of Special Concern in 2013 because of the population’s
recent, swift decline – a 50% decrease in population since 2005. Yet, the SDEIS’ moose
analysis does not meaningfully address how PolyMet’s proposal will impact moose or moose
habitat. The MDNR should insist on a thorough, specific analysis for this iconic Minnesota
species before it issues any mining permits.

For the foregoing reasons, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, the U.S. Army
Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Forest Service should find that the impacts and risks to the
environment and society from PolyMet’s proposed mine are too great to approve the project.
The agencies should choose the No Action Alternative and deny the requested permits and land
exchange. At a bare minimum, the agencies must require that the SDEIS is updated to include
legally-required analysis that was not included in this SDEIS and correct the other significant
flaws identified through the comment process before the agencies make a decision on the
proposed mine.

Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,

/s/ Allen Gleckner

Allen Gleckner
Staff Attorney
Environmental Law & Policy Center
2356 University Avenue West
Suite 403
St. Paul, MN 55114