With a new mining boom on the horizon for Minnesota’s Iron Range, lawyers for a coalition of conservation groups told an appellate panel Thursday that state rules governing metal mining are inadequate to protect the environment.
The case is the first legal test of Minnesota’s environmental rules for copper-nickel mining, and comes as international companies plan the state’s first hard-rock mines: two large copper mines near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCA) in northeastern Minnesota.
The Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness and other advocacy groups filed a petition challenging the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) rules last December, shortly after the agency issued a key and final permit to PolyMet Mining Inc.
The permit to mine was the first ever written under the state’s untested rules, and the petition is one of seven legal challenges to PolyMet’s project. At issue is Chapter 6132 of DNR agency rules — “Nonferrous Metallic Minerals Mining” — adopted in 1993. The rules for ferrous mining, such as iron ore and taconite, are not being challenged.
The groups have petitioned the Minnesota Court of Appeals to declare the entire chapter of rules invalid, but said Thursday they would agree if the justices simply deemed some of the rules too vague and struck them down.