PolyMet’s permit to mine paused by Minnesota Supreme Court ruling

April 28, 2021

A ruling from the Minnesota Supreme Court affirmed the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources’ (DNR) discretion to deny contested case hearings and, importantly, affirmed its decision to deny contested case hearings on nearly every issue raised by PolyMet project opponents. However, the state’s Supreme Court also ruled that the DNR must hold a trial-like contested-case hearing on the “effectiveness” of the PolyMet's plan to line the tailings dam with bentonite clay. That hearing will aim to gather more information on whether the planned bentonite clay lining for the waste basin will work as intended and pauses the project.

In a statement released on April 28, PolyMet expressed confidence from the court’s ruling, writing, “DNR has spent years studying the bentonite cap issue that will be considered in a contested case, and PolyMet looks forward to presenting that evidence in a hearing. When DNR completes the contested case process, it can re-issue the Permit to Mine.”

The Star Tribune reported that the Supreme Court decision, written by Justice Natalie E. Hudson also said that DNR erred “by issuing the permit without an appropriate fixed term.” That means it didn't set an appropriate end point on the permit, a point by which the site is supposed to be cleaned up and returned to nature.

PolyMet’s NorthMet project would be the first copper mine in Northern Minnesota. The project 290 Mt (320 million st) of proven and probable reserves grading 0.288 percent copper and 0.083 percent nickel and marketable reserves of palladium, cobalt, platinum and gold.

At issue are the permit to mine and dam safety permits that the DNR issued in 2018 to the Minnesota subsidiary of PolyMet Mining Corp. The parent mining company is registered in British Columbia and majority-owned by Glencore in Switzerland, but it is run out of St. Paul. The mine and processing facility would be in Babbitt and Hoyt Lakes.

“This is a big win for PolyMet, our supporters, and for industry in Minnesota,” said Jon Cherry, chairman, president and CEO. The decision comes on the heels of the Supreme Court’s ruling in favor of the company’s air permit in February.

“We continue to review the decision and will have more to say about our path forward in due course,” Cherry said. “In the meantime, we celebrate another key legal victory along with all who value integrity in the state’s environmental review and permitting process and who want responsibly mined metals for infrastructure improvements, electric vehicles and renewable energy. These metals that are found in abundance in Minnesota remain in the ground at a time when the supply continues to diminish and demand increases.”

 

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