The Minnesota Supreme Court will review a case challenging air permits for PolyMet, which is trying to open Minnesota's first copper-nickel mine near Hoyt Lakes and Babbitt.
In an order filed Tuesday, the court granted petitions for review made by PolyMet and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency in April after a Minnesota Court of Appeals decision in March sent the company's air permits back to the MPCA for review. The Court of Appeals said the agency should have considered a report that said PolyMet is eyeing a much larger operation.
PolyMet said in a news release it is looking forward to presenting its case to the Supreme Court.
“We believe the MPCA in its permit appropriately accounted for the potential effects of the NorthMet Project on the airshed, and are pleased that the Supreme Court will hear the case," PolyMet President and CEO Jon Cherry said in the release. “The Court of Appeals’ decision creates tremendous uncertainty for companies who want to invest in Minnesota and must seek permits from the state. This is an opportunity to remedy that situation."
Opponents of the project said the Court of Appeals' March decision should stand and said they would defend their position to the Supreme Court.
"The evidence shows that PolyMet hasn’t told the full story. That’s why the Minnesota Court of Appeals expressed concern over 'sham permitting' and told the MPCA to take a second look," said Kathryn Hoffman, CEO of the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, one of the groups that filed appeals. "The court’s ruling was well-reasoned, and the evidence since then has only gotten stronger about PolyMet’s true intentions."
The Court of Appeals in March sided with environmental groups arguing a report released by PolyMet in March 2018 outlines the company's plans to recover 118,000 tons of ore per day instead of 32,000 tons per day — the amount listed by the company in permit applications. The air permits, issued in December 2018, allow the company to release 250 tons of regulated pollutants per year, but opponents say the company would exceed that limit if it were to recover more ore.
The MPCA did not immediately respond to the News Tribune's request for comment Tuesday afternoon.
The Supreme Court has already said it will hear challenges to a January decision that sent PolyMet's dam-safety permits and permit to mine back to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and ordered a contested-case hearing on the permits.
Separately, the company's national pollutant discharge elimination system, or NPDES, permit, which regulates water discharged from industrial activities, remains on hold after an August order by the Minnesota Court of Appeals after it was revealed the MPCA requested the Environmental Protection Agency refrain from commenting on a PolyMet draft water permit until the public comment period ended.