The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Marc Fink, Center for Biological Diversity, (218) 525-3884

Lawsuit to Be Filed to Stop Pollution at Proposed PolyMet Mine Site


The Center for Biological Diversity, Save Lake Superior Association,
and the Indigenous Environmental Network today filed formal notice
that they intend to file suit against mining company Cliffs Erie to
stop the ongoing pollution of waters that surround the proposed PolyMet
mine site. According to Cliffs Erie's own monitoring reports, there are
numerous ongoing violations of water-quality laws relating to
management of the former LTV tailings basin. PolyMet's proposal for its
copper-nickel mine is to pile its own tailings waste on top of those
from a former taconite mine that are still polluting. The 60-day notice
letter is a prerequisite to filing a citizen enforcement action under
the Clean Water Act.

"Before the state even
considers the approval of a new wave of mining in northeastern
Minnesota, it should first require the mining companies to clean up the
pollution from past taconite mines," said Marc Fink, an attorney with
the Center for Biological Diversity. "As we all learned as kids, you
should clean up one mess before making another one."

The LTV basin, located six miles north of Hoyt Lakes, was used for
taconite tailings from the 1950s until 2001. The unlined basin is the
source of numerous seeps and discharges of polluted wastewater into
groundwater and surface waters, which eventually reach the Embarrass
River. For the proposed NorthMet mine, PolyMet proposes to process more
than 225 million tons of ore at the LTV processing facility, and use
the same LTV tailings basin already known to be leaking.

past mining has already polluted these waters, the proposed heavy
metals mining would bring severe new threats of pollution to these
waters, which ultimately flow into Lake Superior at the Duluth harbor,"
said Le Lind of the Save Lake Superior Association. "This new threat
includes sulfuric acid runoff and higher levels of mercury in waters
that are already impaired."

In addition to the LTV
site, the groups intend to file suit to stop ongoing pollution at the
Dunka mine site, which is close to where Duluth Metals has plans for a
copper-nickel mine adjacent to the Kawishiwi River, and where Franconia
Minerals proposes a copper-nickel mine at the bottom of Birch Lake.
Both the Kawishiwi River and Birch Lake flow into the Boundary Waters.

are historic tribal lands where the tribes retain treaty rights, and
many tribal members are deeply concerned about additional pollution to
fishing streams and sources of wild rice," said Marty Cobenais of the
Indigenous Environmental Network.

The groups are
represented by attorney Charlie Tebbutt and Marc Fink, an attorney with
the Center for Biological Diversity who resides in Duluth.

For additional information,
the following paragraphs are taken directly from the Draft
Environmental Impact Statement that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
and Minnesota Department of Natural Resources prepared for the proposed
NorthMet mine, available at:

proposes to mine (over an estimated 20-year mine life) an average of
approximately 91,200 tons per day (tpd) of rock, and up to 32,000 tpd
of ore from a new surface mine consisting of three pits (i.e., East,
Central, and West Pits). Over the life of the Project, PolyMet would
process approximately 228 million tons of base and precious metal ore
at the former LTV Steel Mining Company (LTVSMC) taconite processing
facility. (DEIS, p. 1-1).

The LTVSMC Tailings
Basin, proposed for reuse by PolyMet, was operated from 1953 until it
was shutdown in January 2001. The existing Tailings Basin is unlined
and the perimeter embankments do not have a clay core or cutoff, which
allows for both surface seepage through the embankment and groundwater
seepage under the embankment. (DEIS, p. 4.1-29).

LTVSMC Tailings Basin contributes both groundwater and surface water
seepage that ultimately reaches the Embarrass River between monitoring
stations PM-12 and PM-13. As discussed above (Table 4.1-19 and Figure
4.1-14), the LTVSMC Tailings Basin had at least 33 locations where
tailings water was seeping through the embankment to surface waters.
(DEIS, p. 4.1-41).

PolyMet does not propose a
liner for the Tailings Basin. As a result, the Proposed Action would
result in increased seepage from the Tailings Basin relative to
existing legacy LTVSMC seepage, including both surface seepage through
the Tailings Basin embankment and groundwater seepage through the base
of the LTVSMC tailings (Table 4.1-35). Most of this seepage would move
north toward the Embarrass River, but a small portion of seepage would
move south toward Second Creek in the Partridge River watershed.
(DEIS, p. 4.1-63).

It is the Tribal cooperating
agencies' position that the existing LTVSMC tailings are contributing
substantially to the level of constituents observed in the groundwater.
. . It is unclear how the addition of mine waste to the basins would
cause seepage water quality to improve. (DEIS, p. 4.1-14, footnote 5).

At the Center for Biological Diversity, we believe that the welfare of human beings is deeply linked to nature — to the existence in our world of a vast diversity of wild animals and plants. Because diversity has intrinsic value, and because its loss impoverishes society, we work to secure a future for all species, great and small, hovering on the brink of extinction. We do so through science, law and creative media, with a focus on protecting the lands, waters and climate that species need to survive.

(520) 623-5252