PolyMet financial assurance at center of MN House Committee hearing

By KBJR News 1

February 11, 2014 Updated Feb 12, 2014 at 10:16 AM CDT

St. Paul, MN (NNCNOW.com) - Minnesota lawmakers want to make sure the proposed PolyMet copper-nickel mine has the finances to cover any potential damage to the environment.

A House Committee heard testimony Tuesday from the State and the public centered around the company's financial assurance.

PolyMet is in the early stage of developing a $500 million open-pit, copper-nickel mine on the Iron Range.

In St. Paul on Tuesday, lawmakers discussed how to assure the financial means for any clean up of environmental destruction, in case the company were to go under and could no longer be held accountable.

"Is Polymet ahead of schedule with information required? Are they behind? Is it sufficient as far as the process?" asked Representative Rod Hamilton.

"Right now I would say PolyMet is right on schedule with their proposals for financial assurance. The draft EIS contains the level of financial assurance that is appropriate for a supplemental Draft EIS stage and the detailed financial assurance package comes in with the detailed engineering that comes with the permit to mine application," said Minnesota DNR representative, Jess Richards.

The Department of Natural Resources answered tough questions from lawmakers surrounding finances, the permitting process and the potential for environmental damage.

Many others expressed their concerns during the hearing giving lawmakers plenty to think about.

"Frequently what's left behind is a bankrupt company and an environmental disaster. LTV is an example of this pattern at the very site that Polymet now controls. LTV declared bankruptcy and left behind environmental damage and an estimated cleanup cost of over 25 million dollars" Said representative for the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, Alan Thometz.

PolyMet says full financial assurance details aren't available yet because they go hand in hand with the state's permitting process.

"We've got to have the calculations all together. The discount rates and the kinds of instruments. All of those go to the regulators," said the executive vice president of Environmental Governmental Affairs for PolyMet, Brad Moore.

Lawmakers questioned the ability of the PolyMet representative to answer questions about finances.

"I am the environmental permitting individual, so the details on the finances, I don't know." Said Moore.

"I wish somebody would have been here that could actually talk about the finances, being that this is a hearing about financial assurance." said State Representative Andrew Falk.

PolyMet CEO Jon Cherry has said the company is on schedule with creating the company's financial assurance, saying he expects it to be probably more than $100 million dollars.

The state will determine the most appropriate type of funding during the permitting process. The funding type will need to be bankruptcy proof, continuously in place and readily available to regulators.

Bryce Henry