The News Tribune’s Jan. 13 editorial criticizing the Minnesota Court of Appeals’ reversal of two key PolyMet permits read like a company press release (Our View: “PolyMet permit reversal is disappointing”).
Rather than addressing the substance of the court’s ruling, the editorial bought into the company’s self-serving statements and ignored key unresolved issues with the PolyMet proposal. And it accused opponents of causing delay and deviating from a “long ago agreed to” process.
First, the length of the process has nothing to do with whether a proposal complies with state law. We do not grade on effort in Minnesota, and we do not allow a project to move forward simply because a company has spent years proposing something. Besides, the biggest delays here occurred because the company failed to resolve problems, resulting in a rejection of the first environmental impact statement.
Instead, we have laws and procedures in place to protect our communities, wildlife, and water. These require that problems are actually resolved before projects can move forward. And when there are serious issues, as there are with the PolyMet proposal, a neutral judge reviews them — in the open, with witnesses, experts and cross-examination — in what’s called a contested case hearing.
The appeals court has confirmed that serious questions remain about PolyMet’s unprecedented proposal and that the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources was legally required to hold a contested case hearing.
These questions include whether a 250-foot “upstream” dam — the highest in Minnesota — would be safe for all time. The DNR has admitted that the upstream dam design utilizes the least “robust” construction method. Why should Minnesota allow what other countries such as Brazil, Peru, and Ecuador have prohibited?
And, can we really depend on a private company to safely pump millions of gallons of leaked toxic pollution back into the basin, continuously and forever?
And, shouldn’t Glencore, the giant multinational corporation that controls PolyMet, be named on the permits so that it would be responsible if (and invariably when) things don’t go as promised?
Unfortunately, the editorial completely ignored all of these questions. Thank goodness we have an independent judiciary to ensure Minnesotans get answers.
Finally, a contested case hearing on the PolyMet proposal is not a new idea, contrary to the News Tribune’s suggestion. Indeed, Duluthians have been pointing out the need for one for years (Local View: “Evidentiary hearing on PolyMet necessary, sensible,” Sept. 5, 2016).
In 2017, a majority of Duluth city councilors and all three Duluth legislators signed a letter to the DNR requesting this step. And a September 2016 poll found that 70% of Duluth residents believed the DNR “should hold a hearing run by an impartial judge where all sides can present evidence before making a decision on permits for PolyMet.” Even 55% of PolyMet supporters agreed with this statement.
The DNR should have started the hearing long ago, rather than wait until the court ordered it to do so. Any “delay” was due to the DNR’s failure to follow the law and listen to the people.
Rather than focusing on the length of the process, we encourage the News Tribune to conduct an old-fashioned investigation into the important problems that clearly still exist.
Remember: PolyMet would be the state’s first-ever open-pit sulfide mine. Even the company’s own best-case scenario shows it would cause the largest destruction of wetlands in the state’s history, emit hundreds of thousands of metric tons of greenhouse-gas pollution, and require active water treatment for centuries — all at the headwaters of the Lake Superior watershed.
A contested case hearing is clearly not too much to ask. In fact, it is required by law, and we should all support it.
JT Haines of Duluth is the Duluth-area representative for the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy (mncenter.org). Marc Fink of Duluth is an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity (biologicaldiversity.org).