Polymet Mine

The projected copper-nickel PolyMet mine on The St. Louis Watershed.

(The Center Square) – The Minnesota Court of Appeals remanded a Polymet mine air pollution permit to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) because it failed to consider concerns submitted by opponents.

The Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy (MCEA) claimed MCPA ignored documents challenging PolyMet’s alleged intent to quadruple the size of its mining operation without proper permits.

Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, said the decision means “we will continue to depend on foreign materials sourced by questionable labor practices and problematic human rights activities.”

Gazelka said the ruling was a blow to high-paying jobs in Minnesota.

“A Minnesota mine will be one of the safest places to mine precious metals to meet the growing demands for cell phones, computers, and electric cars,” Gazelka said in a statement. “Mining is safe, and it provides good-paying jobs and careers that can revitalize the main streets of Northern Minnesota. Democrats and courts appointed by Democrats continue to fight against the Iron Range way of life, to the detriment of all Minnesotans.”

Ten days after the close of a public comment period on the air pollution permit in March 2018, PolyMet’s Canadian parent corporation released an investor report outlining possible expansion scenarios exceeding the amount of pollutants for its permit.

The report discussed possibly increasing the ore-processing rate (also known as throughput) of the Polymet mine called “NorthMet” to levels that would require a major-source permit under the Clean Air Act, identifying a 10.3% internal rate of return for the NorthMet mine at the planned ore throughput of 32,000 tons per day.

Another scenario preliminarily assessed higher ore throughputs of 59,000 and 118,000 tons per day with potential internal rates of return of 18.5% and 23.6%, respectively.

The MCEA told the MCPA the Canadian report “reveals a fundamental truth about the PolyMet project: the mine as proposed is too expensive to attract investors” and requested the agency withhold issuing the permit until it has completed an evaluation. 

The next day on Dec. 20, 2018, MCPA granted the air emissions permit.

The MCPA ignored this, environmentalists alleged, and issued a permit for a 32,000 ton per day plan, allowing PolyMet to avoid more stringent “major source” air pollution requirements that require the use of “best available control technology.”

In April of 2021, the Minnesota Supreme Court remanded a mining permit dispute to the Court of Appeals, which now ordered the dispute back to state regulators.

The state’s top court instructed the lower to answer two questions: whether the Canadian report undermined the MCPA conclusion that PolyMet will comply with permit conditions and whether the MPCA should have denied the permit because PolyMet “has failed to disclose fully all facts relevant” to the permit or has “knowingly submitted false or misleading information to the agency.”

The appeals court found MPCA did not adequately respond to evidence presented by MCEA on three separate occasions about PolyMet’s possible plans to expand the proposed mine past permit pollution limits.

The court held that MPCA now must consider the evidence of PolyMet’s expansion plans and adopt new findings.

The decision is a blow against Polymet, which has obtained some permits since 2018 but hasn’t built the first $1 billion copper-nickel mine in the state as lawsuits hindered progress.

Environmentalists welcomed the ruling.

“Today’s decision is yet more confirmation that PolyMet is a failed proposal,” Kathryn Hoffman, MCEA CEO, said 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.”

Polymet hasn’t responded to a request for comment.

Staff Reporter

Scott McClallen is a staff writer covering Michigan and Minnesota for The Center Square. A graduate of Hillsdale College, his work has appeared on Forbes.com and FEE.org. Previously, he worked as a financial analyst at Pepsi.