PolyMet’s air permit rejected by Minnesota appeals court

March 25, 2020

The Minnesota Court of Appeals has dealt PolyMet Mining Corp. another setback in its plans for a proposed copper-nickel mine. The latest setback comes from a ruling from a three-judge plan that rejected the air permit that was issued to PolyMet in 2018 by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA).

The Star Tribune reported that the judges ruled that the MPCA should have looked harder at whether PolyMet plans to expand the state’s first copper-nickel mine well beyond the limits imposed by the permit.

Writing for the court, Judge John Rodenberg said the regulator should have clearly addressed whether PolyMet “is engaged in sham permitting” to avoid a permit requiring greater review and more stringent controls.

According to reporting, PolyMet’s Canadian securities filings indicate it may actually be planning a mine nearly four times larger than operation covered by the air permit, which limits the mine to producing 29 kt/d (32,000 stpd) ore, the court noted.

The court remanded the permit back to the MPCA for further review. The MPCA said it's reviewing the decision and will soon decide its next steps.

PolyMet is already engaged in litigation and investigations into how regulators handled its water quality permit. In February, PolyMet filed a Petition for Review to the Minnesota Supreme Court seeking to overturn a January state Court of Appeals decision that remanded the company’s Permit to Mine and dam safety permits back to the Department of Natural Resources for a contested case hearing.

If the proposed mine gets built near Babbitt and Hoyt Lakes, it would be the state’s first nonferrous mine.

“We stand ready to provide the additional information the agency might need to update its decision on the air permit,” the company said.
Jobs for Minnesotans, a pro-mining group backed by business and labor groups, issued a statement saying they are concerned about the signal the decision sends to prospective investors in Minnesota.

“We’re increasingly concerned by court rulings that appear to effectively transfer regulatory authority to the judiciary from agencies long established under state statute and staffed with experienced experts in the scientific fields relevant to decisions, such as air permitting,” the group said.

The openpit mine and its operations for crushing and processing ore required an air permit because it will emit a range of pollutants into the air such as carbon monoxide, fine dust and mercury. Although the MPCA considers the PolyMet mine's mercury emissions to be small, the metal is a neurological toxin that drifts down into water and builds up in the tissue of fish.

The Court of Appeals has rejected or suspended environmental permits on three different projects over the last year. It is the second time this year that the appellate court has rejected permits issued to PolyMet. In January, the court reversed three permits that the state Department of Natural Resources issued to PolyMet — its permit to mine and two dam safety permits. Both the company and the agency have asked the Supreme Court to review that decision.

Photo: Supporters of PolyMet’s NorthMet project. Photo courtesy of PolyMet.

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