Three years after state regulators issued the first permit for the PolyMet copper/nickel mine in northeastern Minnesota to air quality, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) reaffirmed their decision, rejecting claims of “sham permitting”.
Many environmental groups and the Fond Du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa argued that the MPCA did not consider information suggesting that PolyMet intended to build a larger mine that would emit more pollutants than what was allowed under the air permit.
The Minnesota Supreme Court ruled February that the MPCA was not required by law to investigate these claims. It then referred the case to the Minnesota Court of Appeals to resolve two minor issues. In a July ruling, an appeals court asked PolyMet for more information on how it reached its decision.
In Monday’s 21-page report was releasedThe agency stated that the possibility that PolyMet might decide to expand its operations does no change MPCA’s conclusion that the mining company is able to comply with the air permit.
The MPCA stated that PolyMet would need to undergo a new permitting process if it decides to expand. This would include public notice and comments.
PolyMet won the support of state regulators in defending the project’s air permit. This victory is significant as the state is looking to build its first copper, precious metals and nickel mine near Hoyt Lakes, Babbitt. PolyMet has several permits that are required to build the mine, including an air permit.
It is a setback for the Fond Du Lac Band and other environmental groups that challenged the permit, the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy Center for Biological Diversity, Center for Environmental Diversity, Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness, and the Sierra Club.
Their case hinged on a report PolyMet submitted.Canadian securities regulatorsAfter the close of the public comment period on an air permit, but before the MPCA had issued a permit, it was clear that a larger mine than the one PolyMet had applied for would be more profitable.
PolyMet has the right to mine and process 32,000 tons per day. The Securities Report examined the potential for PolyMet’s expansion of the mine to almost four times that size. This would likely increase the mine’s life beyond its current 20-year plan.
The MPCA stated that it has strong enforcement authority in the event that PolyMet exceeds the permit’s operation limits.
The agency stated that it had reviewed the economic outlook and potential expansion scenarios for PolyMet. The MPCA concluded that disagreements around project economics did not prove that PolyMet intentionally submitted misleading and false information.
PolyMet CEO Jon Cherry stated that the approval of the air permit brings us one step closer to building the $1 billion mine. This project will bring many economic benefits to northeast Minnesota and provide a U.S-based supply for metals essential for the transition to a more sustainable economy.
PolyMet faces additional obstacles before it can start work on the project. Other major permits, including the main permit to mine the project from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and a water quality permit issued by the MPCA, as well as a permit for wetlands from the federal Environmental Protection Agency, remain in limbo due to ongoing court cases or administrative work.
We are disappointed that once again the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency has failed to conduct an investigation into the facts surrounding PolyMets true mine plans as shared by investors and securities regulators. JT Haines (northern Minnesota program director for Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy) stated in a statement.
PolyMet is still playing bait and switch with its mine project. Haines stated that state agencies must investigate these issues and not sidestep them. He also said that his group is still reviewing MPCAs findings, and hasn’t decided whether to appeal.
Cherry stated that all remaining lawsuits will be heard in 2022 and that PolyMet has won all of the cases that have reached a final determination.
Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has also begun planning a contested hearing for one of these permits. It is expected that it will be held before a state administrative judge in the early part of next year.
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