Our view: Input critical to ensure safe mining – Duluth News Tribune Editorial (December 10, 2013)

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The last time a massive report dropped to detail just how copper-nickel mining could be done on the Iron Range in accordance with strict state and federal environmental laws and standards, it got blasted.

The last time a massive report dropped to detail just how copper-nickel mining could be done on the Iron Range in accordance with strict state and federal environmental laws and standards, it got blasted. The largest environmental agency in the land, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, led the way, saying PolyMet’s plans for a type of mining with a less-than-stellar track record could lead to “adverse environmental impacts” on Northeastern Minnesota. Others weren’t as kind with their language or criticism.

So what was called a “Draft Environmental Impact Statement,” or DEIS, went back for more work, more thought, and better, safer plans — just as it should have. The lengthy environmental-review process was working and working well, helping to ensure, in the end, a project that’s safe, lawful and sensitive to the environment and an industry with hundreds of good-paying jobs and a multibillion-dollar boon for our region.

Nearly three years later, another massive report has dropped, an updated report, this one called a “Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement, or SDEIS. And it’s ready to be blasted. Or praised. Or questioned. Or just commented on. The public’s chance is now, whether led by the EPA or not, to weigh in on the plans for copper-nickel mining and to raise any red flags that ought to be raised — and that demand to be addressed.

So read up on the plans. Get educated. The entire report, all 2,000-plus pages of it. The executive summary is a far more manageable 58 pages. Also at the site are fact sheets on issues including water quality, wild rice and reclamation.

And then comment. A trio of public hearings is scheduled next month as the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and U.S. Forest Service gather feedback, both those in support and those filled with skepticism. The first meeting is Thursday, Jan. 16, at the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center. The evening is to start with an open house at 5 p.m., followed by a formal presentation at 6:45 p.m. and a public-comment period through 10 p.m. Six days later, on Wednesday, Jan. 22, a public comment meeting will follow the same format and timeline at Mesabi East High School in Aurora. And on Tuesday, Jan. 28, environmental activists in the Twin Cities area will get their chance at the St. Paul RiverCentre.

Written comments also will be accepted through 4:30 p.m. on Thursday, March 13. They can be submitted by email to [email protected] or by snail mail to Lisa Fay, EIS Project Manager, MDNR Division of Ecological and Water Resources, Environmental Review Unit, 500 Lafayette Road, Box 25, St. Paul, MN 55155-4025. All comments are public, including from whom they came.

Copper-nickel mining promises to forever alter Northeastern Minnesota. For the economic better, its supporters argue. But at an irreparable environmental cost, critics charge. A thorough and effective environmental-review process can assure the former while preventing the latter. But public input is needed to help assure “thorough” and “effective.” Reasoned and intelligent input and feedback have to be heard. Just like the last time a massive environmental impact report dropped.

For the original version of this editorial, click here: http://www.duluthnewstribune.com/event/article/id/285668/group/homepage/

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