Several Senate DFLers participated in a press event this week to highlight the recent decision from the Minnesota Supreme Court, which overturned PolyMet’s permit to mine in Northeastern Minnesota. The event was hosted by Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness, WaterLegacy, and the Center for Biological Diversity.
The court’s decision is being celebrated as a major victory for the Fond du Lac Band and certain environmental advocacy groups and a setback for the proposed copper-nickel mine, which would be the state’s first mine of its type. The decision also comes a week after a report released by the Office of the Inspector General for the EPA identified several concerns with some of the permits issued for the mine.
The proposed mine is run out of Saint Paul but is predominately owned by a Switzerland-based mining company, Glencore, and involves roughly 6,500 acres of land near Babbitt and Hoyt Lakes, MN. While supporters of the mine argue the jobs that would be created – estimated to be 360 full-time positions – are critical for residents living in the area, opponents of the mine have raised concerns over the mine’s potential to pollute nearby waters – such as the St. Louis River, Lake Superior, and the Boundary Waters – with heavy metals and other contaminants.
This week’s decision by the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled that the DNR was required to hold a contested case hearing before an impartial judge over the mine’s waste management plan prior to granting permits for the mine, which the agency failed to do. Additionally, the court found that the DNR erred by issuing the permit to mine without setting a date by which the mine site and wastewater would need to be cleaned up and reverted to its natural state, a process that could take at least 200 years according to modeling provided by PolyMet.
It will likely take several months, if not a year or more, before the fate of the proposed mine is settled, but the decision this week is a considerable development in a long-running battle over the future of copper-nickel mining in the state.