PolyMet, the company trying to open Minnesota's first copper-nickel mine, will ask the Minnesota Supreme Court to review Monday's Court of Appeals decision that reversed several of its key permits.
On Monday, the court sent PolyMet's dam safety permits and permit to mine — awarded by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resource to the company in late 2018 — back to the DNR and said the agency must hold a contested-case hearing.
In a news release Thursday morning, PolyMet President and CEO Jon Cherry said that decision could harm future projects in the state.
“The potential negative consequences of the decision to any industry or business in the state, and the many Iron Range communities and workers who stand to benefit economically from responsible copper-nickel mining, warrant the Minnesota Supreme Court’s attention," Cherry said.
The contested-case hearing would require an administrative law judge to examine additional evidence and testimony on the project. Then, with information from the contested-case hearing in hand, the DNR must decide whether to reissue the permits.
“The court’s decision greatly diminishes the role of expert state agencies and their commissioners in permitting in favor of administrative law judges. It sets a precedent that subjects the project and any future industrial project in the state to an endless loop of review, contested case hearings and appeals,” Cherry said.
PolyMet is aiming to establish an open-pit mine, processing facility and tailings dam near Hoyt Lakes and Babbitt at the former LTV Steel Mining Co. site.
Opponents of the mine argue the project could send tainted runoff into the St. Louis River watershed and Lake Superior while supporters say the project will provide more than 300 jobs on the Iron Range and move the area's economy away from iron ore dependence.
The court on Monday said environmental groups Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy and WaterLegacy had already identified "numerous factual issues" that would have justified a contested-case hearing before the DNR issued its permits in 2018:
- Whether an upstream construction of the tailings basin dam is unsafe
- Whether the tailings basin's use of a bentonite line would actually work
- Whether there is a better alternative to the planned "wet closure" tailings basin
- Whether the financial assurance meant to reclaim the site when PolyMet closes, either as planned or unexpectedly, is sufficient
- Whether Glencore, PolyMet's majority shareholder, should be added to PolyMet's permit to mine
PolyMet has not yet filed its appeal, but said it would do so within 30 days of Monday's decision.
The DNR has not yet decided if it would also appeal Monday's decision, agency spokesperson Chris Niskanen told the News Tribune Thursday morning.
In a tweet on Thursday morning, the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy vowed to defend the permit reversal if the Supreme Court were to take up the case.