Counterpoint: No holes in PolyMet mine report

  • Article by: FRANK ONGARO
  • Updated: December 11, 2013 - 6:10 PM

Minnesota regulations are specific about what must be looked at for adequate financial assurance coverage.

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After reading Lee Schafer’s “PolyMet mine report has giant hole in it” (Dec. 8) the only hole I see is in his column. “You can’t just write down your answers,” he writes, “you have to show the work.” Schafer needs to heed his own advice.

Minnesota has comprehensive financial assurance requirements in place to ensure that every company will cover its cost of closure and of postclosure reclamation. There are 30-plus pages of Minnesota Rules related to the various requirements. These rules were set up with input from all stakeholders, including environmental groups.

Keep in mind that financial assurance is just one part of the very comprehensive environmental review and permitting process our regulatory agencies have structured for companies proposing to operate in Minnesota. Financial assurance is not part of the environmental impact statement (EIS). It is part of, and required in, the permitting process.

The EIS is not a decision document. It is an impact statement. Once impacts are determined, the various water and air permits will be discussed by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. Once the specific permitting requirements are determined, the specific costs associated with financial assurance can be finalized.

This financial assurance determination takes place during the permit-to-mine stage of permitting. The financial assurance phase of permitting will also provide additional opportunity for the public to participate and provide input.

Our Minnesota regulations are very specific when it comes to what must be looked at for adequate financial assurance coverage. It must cover a detailed review of all costs of potential environmental exposure, and it must review and adjust this cost annually. Financial assurance must be continually in place and available to the state at all times. The financial instruments cannot be dischargeable through bankruptcy, and the state has the authority to revoke and deny a permit if a company does not comply with the requirements. Finally, no company will be released from its liability until the site is reclaimed.

Concerns about covering costs are legitimate. Creating fear through misinformation is not. Antimining groups like the ones referred to in the column have been doing just that for years, creating fear and putting out misinformation. In 2010, these same groups introduced legislation to unnecessarily change financial assurance requirements, including a section to have this issue addressed in the EIS phase of project review. At that time, the Star Tribune Editorial Board opposed the legislation, saying it “isn’t needed” (“Don’t let new law slow PolyMet,” Feb. 14, 2010).

We all want every company to cover its obligations. Fortunately for all of us taxpayers, Minnesota regulations require it.

At the appropriate time in the regulatory process, when all the homework is done, the state will write down its answer on financial assurance as it relates to the PolyMet project.

 

Frank Ongaro is executive director of MiningMinnesota.

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