The Minnesota Court of Appeals issued a pair of rulings about the proposed PolyMet copper and nickel mine in the northern part of the state.
The first ruling could be seen as a win for PolyMet while the second is a setback for what would be the first copper/nickel mine in the state.
On Aug. 5, the Court of Appeals ruled that the state’s laws governing nonferrous mining are sufficient for the proposed mine. Environmental groups fighting the development of the mine argued that the rules are too vague to protect the state’s natural resources and that rules for existing iron ore operations should not cover copper and nickel mining.
The second ruling issued by the court placed a stay on a key water permit for the mine.
Minnesota Public Radio reported that the appeals court in June ordered a hearing on alleged irregularities in how state regulators at the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency dealt with federal regulators at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency over the water pollution permit.
The court said in June that there is "substantial evidence of procedural irregularities" in the way the water pollution permit for the PolyMet project.
Rather than delivering comments critical of the draft permit in written form to the MPCA, EPA staff instead read them over the phone. As a result, those comments were not included as part of the official administrative record.
The appeals court ordered the Ramsey County District Court to hold an evidentiary hearing as soon as is practical.
“We are disappointed in the court’s decision, but we remain confident that the water quality permit meets all applicable standards and will ultimately be upheld in the Court of Appeals,” said PolyMet spokesperson Bruce Richardson.
Regarding the rules governing mining, the judges wrote in an unanimous opinion that their focus was limited to whether a chapter of rules governing nonferrous mining, issued by the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR), exceeded statutory authority or violates constitutional provisions. It doesn't, the three-judge panel concluded.
"Petitioners' true complaint appears to be that chapter 6132 does not impose more specific and universal limitations on nonferrous mining," they wrote. "This complaint is more appropriately directed to the Legislature or the DNR."
Jon Cherry, president and chief executive of PolyMet Mining Corp., said in a statement that Minnesota's rules are among the strictest in the world. "We demonstrated through the extensive environmental review and permitting process that we can meet or exceed these standards," Cherry added.
PolyMet is the first hard-rock mine project to become fully permitted under Minnesota's nonferrous rules, a decade-long process that finished in late 2018, and is now raising financing to begin construction. The company faces several legal challenges and various groups, including some state lawmakers, are pushing for the state to stay the permits, the Star Tribune reported.