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Court Decision on MN Mining Permits Could Set Precedent

PolyMet Mining has said one of the advantages of its mine proposal is the use of existing infrastructure, including this former taconite processing site, but the company has yet to get the permits it needs. (PolyMet Mining)
PolyMet Mining has said one of the advantages of its mine proposal is the use of existing infrastructure, including this former taconite processing site, but the company has yet to get the permits it needs. (PolyMet Mining)
January 15, 2020

ST. PAUL, Minn. - The future of a proposed copper-nickel mine for northern Minnesota is uncertain after an appeals court reversed the approval of key permits. One expert says the ruling could have a lasting effect.

This week, the court said the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources erroneously granted the PolyMet permits by not including a "contested-case" hearing in the review process to focus on objections to the mine. That sends the permits back to the agency, so it can hold such a hearing under the direction of an administrative law judge.

Senior Attorney Scott Strand with the Environmental Law and Policy Center thinks the ruling will extend beyond the PolyMet project.

"It won't be just PolyMet, but it'll be Twin Metals as well," says Strand. "And on any other, future mining projects, I think we're gonna see a requirement that there be a full development of a record, that it be more contesting the facts on which the DNR is basing its proposed decision."

Strand says the ruling linked back to decades-old state laws that hadn't fully been interpreted yet because projects like PolyMet are new to Minnesota.

The proposed mine has run into several legal challenges. Opponents argue that mine runoff could spill into the St. Louis River and Lake Superior.

Both PolyMet and the DNR say they're still deciding whether to appeal to the Minnesota Supreme Court.

Strand says in addition to Minnesota, Monday's ruling might be felt elsewhere in the country.

"The law that governs administrative agencies is, they're similar in a lot of other states," says Strand. "And so, I would suspect that in a lot of other states, where a similar set of circumstances present themselves, people may well cite this opinion."

Opponents of the court's decision say it puts hundreds of future jobs in jeopardy.

The legal wrangling comes as another copper-nickel mine known as Twin Metals, proposed for northern Minnesota, is under state review.

Mike Moen, Public News Service - MN