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Groups ask feds to study mining's impact on Lake Superior

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A coalition of more than 50 groups from Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan is asking the Environmental Protection Agency to study the cumulative effects of existing and proposed mining projects on Lake Superior.

The Duluth News Tribune reports the groups sent a letter to an EPA administrator in Chicago, urging the agency to look at how new proposals combined with existing mines would affect the lake.

Attorney Paula Maccabee with the Minnesota group Water Legacy tells the News Tribune the letter is not a request to delay mining projects, but says it's implicit that new mines would not open during such a study. The letter makes reference to pending or recently approved mines in the three U.S. states and Ontario. The Minnesota projects include copper mines proposed by PolyMet and Twin Metals.

The executive director of the trade group Mining Minnesota tells the News Tribune the cumulative impacts of the mines are already being studied, citing the PolyMet environmental review process as one of the ways questions about the mines are being answered.

Ten days ago PolyMet released a draft Environmental Impact Statement on what the company hopes will be Minnesota's first copper-nickel mine. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, the Army Corps of Engineers, and the U.S. Forest Service will collect public comment on the plan for an open-pit mine near Babbitt with a processing plant near Hoyt Lakes.

Separately, PolyMet has now begun applying for the first of the permits it will need to make the mine a reality. Minnesota Public Radio reports the company has asked the Corps of Engineers for permission to drain 900 acres of wetlands. PolyMet proposes to offset the loss by adding more wetland acreage elsewhere in northeastern Minnesota.

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