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EPA says PolyMet mine study shows improvements

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Commenting on a controversial plan to bring more mining to the state of Minnesota closed Thursday, with one of the most crucial commenters saying PolyMet Mining Corp.'s environmental impact analysis showed improvements, according to media reports.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency gave PolyMet Mining Company's plan for a copper-nickel mine in northeastern Minnesota the equivalent of a "B" grade, according to the Star Tribune. The EPA said the proposed $650 million project needs some changes and further analysis, but will likely be ready to move to the final phase of environmental review, according to MPR News.

The EPA's comments on the 2,000-page environmental impact analysis are perhaps the most important, the Star Tribune says. The analysis was open for public review for three months and it received more than 40,000 comments before the commenting period closed at 4:30 p.m. Thursday, MPR reports.

"We appreciate the extensive improvements to the project and the clarity and completeness of the environmental review that are reflected in the [supplemental draft environmental impact statement]," EPA officials wrote in a letter to the regulators overseeing the review, including the state Department of Natural Resources, MPR reports.

The EPA gave PolyMet a failing grade in its first environmental study four years ago, the Star Tribune reports. The current plan's grade is on par with grades received by other recent big projects in Minnesota, including the Central Light Rail Corridor and the St. Croix River Bridge, the newspaper says.

PolyMet officials celebrated the EPA's assessment, despite the need for additional analysis, MPR reports.

"This rating demonstrates the significant improvements PolyMet has made to the project in response to previous public and regulatory comments," PolyMet President and CEO Jon Cherry told MPR.

Environmental group leaders said PolyMet's study fails to address important questions about how the mine and processing plant would affect the environment in northeastern Minnesota, the Associated Press reports.

PolyMet’s proposed Northmet project, hailed by the company as a job-creating “modern, safe mine,” has been the subject of intensifying debate and criticism. The operation would be the first copper-nickel mine in the state and create an economic boost on the state’s Iron Range, say proponents.

Critics of the project are deeply worried about the long-term affects the mine would have on the environment – especially water – and they are concerned about the mine’s impact on the state’s protected Boundary Waters Canoe Area.

PolyMet officials aim to begin developing the mine in the second half of 2014, according to its website. However, the state's environmental review is expected to continue through much of the year, with final permitting decisions possible in 2015, according to the Star Tribune.

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