A three-judge panel on the Court of Appeals on Monday reversed PolyMet Mining Corp's three permits that could have led to the first copper-nickel platinum (PGE) mine in Minnesota.
The Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, and others had challenged the Department of Natural Resources' November 2018 decision issuing PolyMet permits and denying a contested-case hearing.
The court affirmed the DNR’s transfer of an existing permit for the LTV Steel Mining Company tailings basin to Polymet since the transfer adhered to requirements in Minn. R. 6115.0370.
Chief Judge Edward Cleary ordered the Department of Natural Resources to conduct a contested case meeting to present all mining information of the project planned in the St. Louis River Watershed, which drains to Lake Superior. Cleary said the DNR erred by not previously ordering a contested-case hearing to vet stakeholder objections.
Cleary cited Minn. Stat. § 93.483, subd. 3(a)(3), which requires a contested case be held when “there is a reasonable basis underlying a disputed material issue of fact so that a contested case hearing would allow the introduction of information that would aid the commissioner in resolving the disputed facts in order to make a final decision on the completed application.”
The DNR also erred by issuing a permit to mine without a “definite term,'' Cleary wrote. While Polymet planned to mine for 20 years, the court said DNR did not set specific time frames for post-mining reclamation and restoration, which is required by Minn. Stat. § 93.481, sub. 3(a) (2018), and Minn R. 6132.0300, sub. 3.
“For these reasons, we reverse the DNR’s decisions granting the permit to mine and dam-safety permits for the NorthMet project, and we remand for the DNR to hold a contested-case hearing,” the decision reads.
Minnesota Senate GOP Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, tweeted the decision was "extremely disappointing. Thousands and thousands of jobs for the Iron Range are again put on hold by liberal courts and radical environmentalists. I will continue to fight for safe and sensible mining.”
The groups that brought the lawsuit celebrated in written statements.
“The DNR approved PolyMet’s sulfide mine proposal without a full, fair and fact-based hearing,” Kathryn Hoffman, chief executive officer of the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, said. “The court’s decision shows that the process that granted these permits is broken, and the court’s intervention means that the ultimate decision on PolyMet will be based on science and the law.”
Polymet said in a news release they are reviewing the disappointing decision and may appeal it to the Minnesota Supreme Court.
“The administrative record for the NorthMet Project is built on a comprehensive process of scientific study, analysis and public review and comment established in state law, which we participated in for 15 years. We and the regulatory agencies have strictly followed that process," Polymet said.
“We remain firmly committed to putting people to work in northern Minnesota and will continue pushing forward on the project. The NorthMet deposit is abundant in metals that address climate change in the way of renewable and clean energy technologies. We are confident that we can produce these high-demand metals responsibly, with Minnesota workers, and in compliance with all applicable regulations.”