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Legal Fight Continues Over Northeastern MN Mining Project

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PolyMet's proposed copper-nickel mine for northeastern Minnesota had been under review for more than a decade before it became ensnared in a legal fight over permits. (PolyMet)
PolyMet's proposed copper-nickel mine for northeastern Minnesota had been under review for more than a decade before it became ensnared in a legal fight over permits. (PolyMet)
June 19, 2020

HOYT LAKES, Minn. -- For a second time, the Minnesota Supreme Court says it will weigh in on a permit for the proposed PolyMet copper-nickel mine along the Iron Range.

Environmental groups opposing the project say the latest twist shows they're in for a long fight.

This week, the court said it would review a March appeals court decision that struck down the air permit issued to PolyMet by state regulators.

JT Haines, Northern Minnesota advocate at the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, says his group's efforts to stop the mine are a big priority, and are reflected by the magnitude of the case.

"If the court finds that the air permit is indeed invalid, then it's kicked back down to the agency and they have to basically restart a process for review on the air permit," he points out. "So, it's an extremely important decision for sure on this project, but also for state precedent in general."

Earlier this year, the state Supreme Court granted a review of separate PolyMet permits that were also rejected by the appeals court.

The mine would be the first of its kind for Minnesota, and supporters say it would be a huge economic boost for the northeastern part of the state.

But opponents say it would be harmful to surrounding water sources.

The company says it plans to build a system to capture and treat water affected by waste from the proposed mine. But Haines and other environmental groups don't believe there will be enough safeguards.

"If this project builds, it would destroy thousands of acres of sensitive wetlands," he points out. "It would require active treatment and maintenance of permanently polluted water for hundreds of years."

The mine proposal also comes with an estimated prices tag of $1 billion. The company says more that 350 people could be hired to work at the mine, while hundreds of jobs for suppliers also could result.

Mike Moen, Public News Service - MN