The Washington, D.C.-based law firm, Crowell & Morning, was hired to protect Minnesota against possible lawsuits related to PolyMet Mining Corp. The law firm has close ties to the mining industry, raising concern from environmental groups and some state legislators.
The Minneapolis Star Tribune reported that Crowell & Morning has represented mining industry clients such as the the National Mining Association, several coal mining and oil drilling companies, and Massey Energy, whose former CEO, Don Blankenship, was convicted this week of criminal safety violations related to the 2010 Upper Big Branch mine disaster in West Virginia.
In a sharply worded letter to Gov. Mark Dayton, an attorney for the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy (MCEA) said the choice seems to “predetermine” the outcome of key decisions regarding PolyMet’s controversial proposal for a copper-nickel mine, even as the governor has repeatedly said he remains neutral and undecided.
“The decision to hire Washington, D.C., attorneys that regularly represent the mining industry raises significant questions about the state’s position on PolyMet before the state has made any decisions,” said Kathryn Hoffman, MCEA’s lead mining attorney. Hoffman also said the firm would wind up unable to represent Minnesota because its other clients would create a conflict of interest in violation of legal ethics.
State Management and Budget Commissioner Myron Frans, who is guiding the process, said the state chose the sharpest lawyers for an exceptionally good price, and said they are able to represent the state’s interests.
Frans said the firm has reviewed its potential conflicts and is able to create an ethical wall between its other clients and the state of Minnesota.
An environmental review of PolyMet’s controversial mine in Hoyt Lakes, Minn., was completed in November and the company is expected to apply early next year for the necessary permits.
Minnesota hired the firm to defend it against what many see as inevitable lawsuits whether it approves or rejects the proposed mine, a $650 million open pit and processing facility near Hoyt Lakes. An environmental review, required by law and nearly 10 years in preparation, was completed last month, and PolyMet is expected to apply early next year for the necessary permits.
While insisting that he is undecided on the PolyMet proposal, Dayton has called this one of the most important environmental decisions he will make as governor — and one that has the potential to divide the state. Proponents say the 350 jobs can help rejuvenate the economically depressed Iron Range. Environmentalists fear that a new type of mining will create unprecedented risks for water pollution.