The Permitting & Regulatory Process for Metallic Mining
The permitting process can be broken down into the following three broad phases:
The Pre-Application Process
The Application Review Process
The Final Environmental Impact Statement & Permit Issuance Process
Pre-Applications Process – 2 to 3 years Exploration – Feasibility Study – Notice of Intent
The Pre-Application Process
Phase One of the permitting process takes two to three years and ends with the mining company filing a Notice of Intent (NOI) with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) that the company plans to file applications for a new mine. The NOI will also contain a Scope of Study (SOS) for environmental studies needed to support the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the project.
The mining company conducts studies to define the mine plan that they will seek to permit. The studies begin with exploration to define the resource that will be mined and monitoring of baseline conditions such as groundwater and surface water quality, to provide data for the permitting and environmental review process. Monitoring is conducted in consultation with the DNR and is subject to applicable regulation of these activities.
Once sufficient exploration data has been collected, a mining company will advance the project to a “Scoping Study” or “Preliminary Economic Assessment.” This study is performed to determine if the project is both economically and environmental viable. If the results of the study are positive, the project then advances to a Feasibility Study.
During the Feasibility Study, the company will perform more detailed engineering studies to select the appropriate mining plan. This study will provide a more detailed analysis of the economics of the project including all costs and describe:
- the mining method, production rate, and location of tailings, support facilities and the processing plant;
- other support infrastructure such as access roads and utility requirements;
- the mine water management infrastructure including water treatment plant requirements; and
- other environmental and social aspects.
In addition, plans for mine closure and reclamation will be developed. The mining company will typically expand baseline environmental studies to support the environmental and social analysis that is required for the study.
Application Process – 1 to 4 years Permit Application Submission – WDNR Review – Updated Application – WDNR Issues Draft Permits
The Application Review Process
This phase of the permitting process can take between one to four years depending on the complexity of the project. After receiving requirements from the DNR, the mining company completes the environmental studies. Once the environmental studies are complete, the mining company then prepares the Mine Permit Application, Environmental Impact Report (EIR), and other permit applications necessary for project approval.
The timeline for review of the EIR and permit applications that lead to the DNR issuing a draft EIS and draft permits can take a number of years with commentary and inquiry from the DNR and the re-submission of plans based on these requirements.
The review process provides several opportunities for the DNR to review and request additional information before deciding on draft permits.
Permitting & Hearings – 6 months Draft Permits – Public Notices and Informational Hearings – Permits Granted or Denied
The Final EIS and Permit Issuance Process
The process for issuance of the Final EIS and permits can take up to a year. This phase of the process begins with the DNR’s issuance of the draft EIS and draft permits, followed by a public hearing at which the public may provide comments on the draft EIS and draft permit. Within 90 days of the public hearing, the DNR is required to respond to public comments, publish a final EIS and either grant final permits or deny the permits.
Once the DNR grants or denies final permits, any person may request a contested case hearing which sets in motion a timeline for review and decision making.
Contested Case Hearing – 9 months Individuals Request Contested Case – Contested Case Hearing – Hearing Examiner Issues Final Decision
Type of Permits and Approvals
In addition to a metallic mining permit, there are numerous other permits and approvals that are required from the DNR or federal agencies. In general, the following examples of groups of permit applications and reports must be submitted to the WDNR:
- A Mine Permit Application. This is an umbrella permit that regulates the mine and covers construction, operations, closure/reclamation, and long-term care.
- Pollution Control: Air Pollution Control and Wisconsin Pollution Discharge and Elimination System Permit Applications.
- Water and Wetlands: Wetlands, High Capacity Well, and Water Regulatory Permit Applications. These permits regulate construction activities in or near navigable waters.
- Operational Reports: A Feasibility Study and Plan of Operation for Mine Waste Storage Facilities, as well as Preliminary Engineering Report for Waste Water Treatment Facilities.
- Construction and Operational Storm Water Management Permits.
Role of Federal Agencies
There are two broad areas where federal agencies will be involved in the review and permitting process for a new mine in Wisconsin. If the proposed project:
- Is on federal land such as lands owned by the U.S. Forest Service, or involves federal minerals, then the Bureau of Land Management will also be involved in the EIS process; and
- Involves impacts to federally regulated wetlands, then the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will be involved in the EIS and will also be the lead agency for issuance of the Wetlands Permit.
Under the recent changes to Wisconsin’s mining law, the DNR has been instructed to develop a memorandum of understanding with any participating federal agencies regarding the EIS so that a single EIS is prepared for the project that meets the requirements of both state and federal law. If federal agencies are involved in the EIS process, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will also be involved in reviewing the EIS and determining the adequacy of the draft and Final EIS.
A mining company is financially responsible for all reclamation, monitoring, long-term care, and remediation costs associated with a mine. A new mining project in Wisconsin will be required to ensure that funds will be available to pay for these responsibilities by furnishing financial assurance. These include:
- Reclamation costs throughout the life of the mining operation.
- Long-term care costs for monitoring and maintenance of the waste disposal facility for a period of at least 40 years after completion of mine closure and reclamation.
- Remedial contingency costs.
Financial assurance for reasonably anticipated costs to be incurred during the period between 40 and 250 years after closure of the mine to cover specific foreseeable repairs and maintenance of the waste site caps and water treatment facilities.
Remedial contingency costs. These costs are set by law to be equal to 10% of the required financial assurance for reclamation and long-term care. This financial assurance was added under 2017 Wisconsin Act 134 to cover costs for unforeseen remediation at the mine site.