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Court of Appeals sends PolyMet air permit back to Minnesota Pollution Control Agency

The court ruled that the MPCA failed to "adequately explain the reasons for its conclusions."

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PolyMet Mining plans to develop a copper-nickel and precious metals facility at the former LTV Steel Mining Co. site near Hoyt Lakes. (Photo courtesy of PolyMet Mining)
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The Minnesota Court of Appeals sent PolyMet's air-emissions permits back to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency for "further consideration and additional findings" in an opinion from Judge Lucinda Jesson on Monday.

PolyMet is planning to build Minnesota's first copper-nickel mine near Hoyt Lakes and Babbitt. While supporters say it would operate safely and bring much-needed jobs to the region, opponents, including environmental groups and the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, say the project would risk sending toxic pollution into the St. Louis River Watershed, which empties into Lake Superior.

After the Minnesota Supreme Court sent the case back to the lower court in February, the Court of Appeals was asked to review the MPCA's decision to grant the permits, in light of a report that was released shortly after the air permit's comment period ended.

PREVIOUSLY:

  • EPA: PolyMet 'may affect' waters of Fond du Lac Band and Wisconsin A hearing on the proposed copper-nickel mine's discharge permit is likely.
  • Court: DNR must set term — in years — on PolyMet dam, hold hearing on effectiveness of dam liner Minnesota Supreme Court upholds lower court's reversal of PolyMet's permit to mine, but reverses the lower court's decision to require additional hearing on several other issues.
  • EPA inspector general: Agency should've shared PolyMet permit concerns with Minnesota regulators in writing, not over phone

The report was released by PolyMet in March 2018, 10 days after the public comment period ended, which outlined the company's plans to recover 118,000 tons of ore per day instead of 32,000 tons per day — the amount listed in the company's permit applications. The Supreme Court asked the Court of Appeals to consider whether this report had "undermined the Agency's conclusion that PolyMet 'will … comply with all conditions of the permit.'"
Jesson wrote in the opinion that the MPCA had "not adequately explained the reasons for its conclusions" and remanded the permits back to the agency for further consideration.

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Opponents of the mine, such as the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, praised the court's decision and noted this was the second time the Court of Appeals has rejected the MPCA's decision to issue the air permit.

"Today’s decision is yet more confirmation that PolyMet is a failed proposal,” said Kathryn Hoffman, chief executive officer of the MCEA in a statement. “It comes on the heels of a Minnesota Supreme Court decision that rejected the permit to mine and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency stepping in to put the brakes on the proposal over downstream water pollution. It’s time to move on from PolyMet and find better alternatives for Northeastern Minnesota.”

Representatives from PolyMet also issued a statement in response to the decision.

"While disappointed in the court’s decision, we stand firmly in our belief that the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency appropriately accounted for the potential effects of the NorthMet Project and will expeditiously provide the supporting explanation requested by the court," the statement read. "The facts and science that prove the project can meet air quality standards are not in doubt."

Teri Cadeau is a general assignment and neighborhood reporter for the Duluth News Tribune. Originally from the Iron Range, Cadeau has worked for several community newspapers in the Duluth area for eight years including: The Duluth Budgeteer News, Western Weekly, Weekly Observer, Lake County News-Chronicle and occasionally, the Cloquet Pine Journal. When not working, she's an avid reader and crafter.
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