ST. PAUL — The Minnesota Supreme Court on Wednesday, March 25, said it will review a lower court's ruling that reversed key permits for PolyMet, the company trying to open the state's first copper-nickel mine.
In a January decision, the Minnesota Court of Appeals sent PolyMet's dam safety permits and permit to mine, awarded by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, back to the DNR. The court also ordered the agency to hold a contested-case hearing, which would require an administrative law judge to examine additional evidence and testimony on the project, before considering whether to reissue the permits.
PolyMet and the DNR each filed petitions asking the Supreme Court to review that decision, arguing the decision departed from their interpretation of the law and had broad implications for setting precedent.
The Supreme Court on Wednesday granted both petitions.
“We are pleased the court agreed to review this case, which naturally is of great importance to PolyMet, but also has potentially far-reaching effects on any business seeking permits from the state,” PolyMet President and CEO Jon Cherry said in a news release.
The DNR did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
In its January decision, the Court of Appeals said environmental groups Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy and WaterLegacy had already identified "numerous factual issues" that would have justified a contested-case hearing before the DNR issued its permits:
- Whether an upstream construction of the tailings basin dam is unsafe.
- Whether the tailings basin's use of a bentonite line would actually work.
- Whether there is a better alternative to the planned "wet closure" tailings basin.
- Whether the financial assurance meant to reclaim the site when PolyMet closes, either as planned or unexpectedly, is sufficient.
- Whether Glencore, PolyMet's majority shareholder, should be added to PolyMet's permit to mine.
The court also said the DNR failed to set a definitive term for the permit to mine.
Paula Maccabee, WaterLegacy counsel and advocacy director, said Wednesday that Minnesotans deserve a contested-case hearing.
"The Minnesota Court of Appeals’ ruling overturning PolyMet’s permits was sound, well-reasoned, and compelling," Maccabee said in a statement. "We look forward to defending the Court’s decision."
PolyMet is aiming to establish Minnesota's first copper-nickel mine with an open-pit mine, processing facility and tailings dam near Hoyt Lakes and Babbitt at the former LTV Steel Mining Co. site.
But it faces numerous legal challenges.
On Monday, the Court of Appeals sent PolyMet's air permits back to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency for review and said the agency was wrong not to consider a report that says the company is eyeing a much larger operation.
Separately, PolyMet's national pollutant discharge elimination system, or NPDES, permit, which regulates water discharged from industrial activities, remains on hold after an August order by the Minnesota Court of Appeals after it was revealed the MPCA requested the Environmental Protection Agency refrain from commenting on a PolyMet draft water permit until the public comment period ended.
Opponents argue the project could send tainted runoff into the St. Louis River watershed and Lake Superior, while supporters say the project will provide more than 300 jobs on the Iron Range and move the area's economy away from iron ore dependence.