U.S. Army Corp of Engineers revokes permit for NewRange Copper Nickel project

A blow for the NewRange Copper Nickel project, formerly known as PolyMet.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers revoked the Clean Water Act Section 404 permit because the permit does not ensure compliance with water quality requirements of the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa.

The Corps made this decision after thoroughly considering all information provided to the district at a public hearing hosted in May of 2022.

The Corps initially completed its Record of Decision and issued a Section 404 Clean Water Act individual permit for regulated activities at the NorthMet project March 21, 2019.

At that time, Corps officials determined the project was compliant with all applicable federal laws and regulations.

The Corps subsequently suspended the permit March 17, 2021, at the request of the EPA.

The Corps held a public hearing in May 2022, to seek information on whether the permit should be re-issued, revoked, or modified with new conditions to ensure compliance with the Band’s applicable water quality requirements.

During the hearing, the Band provided information on its determination that the NorthMet project will violate its water quality requirements. The EPA agreed with the Band and recommended the Corps not reinstate the suspended permit. The permittee provided information to support their view that the project would not violate the Band’s water quality and requested the Corps reinstate the suspended permit. The Corps also received verbal and written comments from the public.

Given the Corps’ jurisdiction under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act, the Band and EPA’s water quality authority provided in the Clean Water Act, and the absence of sufficient permit conditions to ensure compliance with the applicable downstream water quality requirements of the Band as required by Section 401(a)(2) of the Clean Water Act, the Corps must revoke the suspended permit.

The Corp says the decision does not preclude NewRange Copper Nickel LLC from submitting a new permit application that will meet all applicable water quality requirements for its project.

NewRange sent a statement, that said, “Today’s decision by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is reversal of thoroughly reviewed water quality data that has been collected and assessed over the last decade. The planned NorthMet Project development is protective of water, air and other resources and can produce copper, nickel and platinum group metals (PGM) in a responsible and sustainable manner. In fact, the project clearly shows that through its proposed water treatment and management processes, it will remove more than 1,400 tons of sulfate per year from the St. Louis River system, the result of historic iron
ore mining operations. It also will lead to a net reduction in pre-existing mercury loading to the river
system. The Corps’ decision is one that requires careful review, determined action, and further engagement with regulators and all key stakeholders. NewRange is reviewing all of our options as we chart a course forward for the development of the NorthMet Project in a safe and environmentally responsible manner that considers NewRange’s communities of interest. The NorthMet Project is a well-considered and thoroughly evaluated development opportunity that will deliver high-demand minerals that are critical to the nation’s and the world’s transition to clean energy and clean mobility technologies, and the promise of jobs and significant economic benefits for northeastern Minnesota.

The Fond du Lac Band sent a statement: “The Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa has been waiting for the Corps’ to make the only decision it could, that the NorthMet Project cannot proceed as proposed. Vice-Chairman Roger Smith said the Corp made the right decision to permanently revoke the Section 404 Permit issued to PolyMet Mining Inc. The Corps’ decision validates the Band’s significant and long-standing concerns with the Project and is consistent with both the Band’s and EPA’s scientific and technical determinations that the Project will violate the Band’s downstream water quality standards.  The Corps’ decision protects the Band’s downstream waters as well as the waters of downstream communities.  The science simply does not support PolyMet’s claims that the NorthMet Project will not degrade water quality.  Chairman Dupuis Sr. remarked that the Corps decision was the right one and upholds the trust responsibility and the treaty promises the United States made to the Band.  Through the 1854 Treaty the United States government promised us that our Reservation which is located downstream from the Project would provide a permanent homeland for our people forever.  We were also promised the ability to exercise our traditional hunting, fishing and gathering rights within our aboriginal lands that were ceded under the 1854 Treaty where the Project will be located.  Despite these solemn promises by the United States, our Reservation and our Ceded Territory lands have been under attack from pollution for decades.  Today’s decision protects the rights and resources promised to us under the Treaty.”

Congressman Pete Stauber sent a statement: “The Biden Administration continues their assault on northern Minnesota and our way of life. We are on the cusp of delivering for the world and our country an ethically and responsibly sourced supply of these greatly needed critical minerals for our everyday life. Again today, this activist administration took another step toward killing yet another domestic mining project in the largest copper nickel find in the world. The activists in Washington took away a Clean Water Act permit, previously granted by experts at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and in essence gave a gift to the Chinese Communist Party. Because of this, America will be more reliant on China, which has no environmental or labor standards and uses minerals sourced by child labor.”