Key Democrat wants answers from EPA on Minnesota mine plan

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ST. PAUL, MN — A Minnesota Congresswoman is demanding answers after claims the Environmental Protection Agency blocked staff comments on the PolyMet Project.

The comments surround a key state permit for the copper-nickel mine project in Hoyt Lakes.

Citing documents obtained by WaterLegacy, the environmental advocacy group claims the EPA suppressed staff comments that were prepared for the draft PolyMet water pollution permit.

“It seems from the record is that the EPA had actually prepared written comments on the draft water pollution permit for PolyMet. And somehow those comments were withheld or suppressed,” said Paula Maccabee, the advocacy director, and counsel for WaterLegacy.

Maccabee says the comments in question were critical of the project.

“What it looks like, across a broad spectrum of issues, is that the best information from the environmental protection agency, from scientists from within that agency, is being disregarded, suppressed, or countermanded by some higher political power,” she said.

Maccabee says she was stonewalled by the EPA in requesting the documents, at times, being asked to pay as much as $10,000 for them.

She says she obtained documents by making a similar request to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, which is the issuing agency for the permits.

“The public needs to know, what the experts, at the federal level, had to say about the PolyMet water pollution permit. We’re entitled to that,” said Maccabee.

The EPA is a cooperating agency with the MPCA, meaning the state agency would have to take EPA comments into consideration.

Maccabee has enlisted the help of Minnesota’s Democratic 4th District Congresswoman Betty McCollum and others to investigate to ensure the EPA followed correct protocol to protect the water quality around the PolyMet project, as mandated by the Clean Water Act.

“I think that Congresswoman McCollum’s interest has a lot of positive implications for the public getting to know what really happened,” said Maccabee.

Congresswoman McCollum, who has often advocated for environmental protections and is critical of the project, has obliged.

In a statement Thursday, McCollum said she will be requesting that the EPA release PolyMet-related comments prepared by EPA staff.

“She has an abiding concern, both about public transparency and about protecting the environment,” said Maccabee.

Maccabee says she hopes the comments become public, in which case they could be used in a potential appeals process.

We reached out to both the MPCA and the EPA for comment Thursday.

The MPCA referred us to the EPA.

Due to the government shutdown, we were unable to reach anyone at the EPA.

PolyMet officials said the EPA was involved in the permitting process and don’t believe the agency objected to the final permits being issued

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ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) – An influential Democratic congresswoman wants to know why the Environmental Protection Agency opted against filing formal comments with state regulators when they considered whether to issue a key permit for the PolyMet copper-nickel mine in Minnesota.

Minnesota Rep. Betty McCollum, a critic of the project who chairs a House subcommittee that oversees the EPA, says it’s “remarkable” that the EPA did not formally weigh in before the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency issued the final water permit last month.

McCollum was responding this week to questions from environmental group WaterLegacy. Paula Maccabee, the group’s attorney, says documents obtained from the state agency show that regional EPA staffers told the agency last fall that they had “substantial questions” about the water permit.

EPA officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

 

Associated Press

Associated Press

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