Local View Column: PolyMet ruling sets business-unfriendly precedent

PolyMet is reusing and reclaiming the former LTV Steel Mining site near Hoyt Lakes. Photo courtesy of PolyMet Mining

APEX and the Duluth Building Trades stand in unison, yet again, championing and commending PolyMet Mining for its commitment to stay the course in Minnesota’s regulatory process. PolyMet’s action to petition the Supreme Court to review the recent Court of Appeals ruling remanding key permits to a contested case was the right decision for Northeastern Minnesota and our entire state (“PolyMet will appeal permit reversal,” Jan. 17).

The current ruling jeopardizes the vitality and economic security of our business and labor communities and puts the future of natural resources-related economic development in our state at risk. It also brings more disappointment for our Iron Range communities, union members, and suppliers who anxiously await the economic boost and already had celebrated the achievement of PolyMet’s state and federal permits.

The court proposed a new rule that reaches beyond the mining industry. The rule would subject all Minnesota businesses requiring these types of critical permits to the potential of a contested case if conflicting evidence on a material issue of fact is found, even if the agency previously considered the evidence. For example, the interpretation of the structural tailings dam design will now be subject to an evidentiary hearing, overseen by an administrative law judge. The dam was the most studied aspect of PolyMet’s project. The company, state agencies, and independent review experts invested countless hours reviewing and enhancing the dam’s design.

Now a law judge, not the professional engineers and scientists in our regulatory agencies entrusted to make these decisions, will determine whether the dam design is structurally sound. This is a ridiculous waste of company and state resources after a project that has involved extended comment periods, more public information hearings than required by law, and more than 87,000 public comments on the record. Essentially, any special-interest group opposed to a project in the permitting stage can now offer an objection to a permit and trigger a contested case hearing, even if the objection has already been completely vetted by the agency and found to have no basis.

Unless the Court of Appeals’ order for a contested case is overturned by the Supreme Court, a contested case would add months of delay and expense to 15 years of investment in the rigorous regulatory process. Worse, it’s unclear how the additional layer of process could possibly provide more information than has already been analyzed.


Rather than streamline an already-cumbersome and lengthy regulatory process, the new rule complicates and adds a vortex of uncertainty to businesses looking to expand or locate in Minnesota. It’s bad for business, the trades, and all communities in Minnesota, especially rural communities.

Businesses rely on predictability in the regulatory process to project and plan for investment. The trades depend on business expansion. Communities require a strong tax base and family-sustaining wages to fund schools and infrastructure. Without one element, the other falters. If we want to continue to produce a talented workforce and vibrant communities, Minnesota cannot afford to position itself at a further disadvantage with this added, unnecessary layer of process.

Like PolyMet, we are committed to staying the course. We must overcome this setback together. Our way of life and the livelihood of our region depend on it.

Brian Hanson is president and CEO of APEX (, a regional, privately led force for economic development, based in Duluth. Craig Olson is president of the Duluth Building and Construction Trades Council.

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