Environmental groups, Fond du Lac tribe cheer decision to require further state review.
Plans to build Minnesota’s first copper-nickel mine suffered a major setback Monday when the state Court of Appeals reversed three permits issued to PolyMet Mining Corp. and kicked them back to state regulators for additional review.
Chief Judge Edward Cleary said the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) erred in not holding so-called contested case hearings on the permits to fully vet objections by environmental groups and the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa. In a decision released Monday, he ordered the DNR to hold such a hearing.
In addition, Cleary said, the DNR should have specified time limits for the mine’s entire life cycle in PolyMet’s all-important permit to mine. Although PolyMet says it intends to mine for 20 years, the permit isn’t clear about the time frame for activities such as mine reclamation and future maintenance of the huge tailings dam for mine waste that will be left behind, according to the court’s decision.
The ruling affirmed a fourth action by the DNR, its decision to transfer an existing tailings dam permit to PolyMet. The ruling is a major victory for the Fond du Lac tribe and environmental groups deeply opposed to PolyMet’s $1 billion open-pit copper-nickel mine operation planned for sites near Babbitt and Hoyt Lakes.
Hard-rock mines have a long history of pollution violations because the process can generate sulfuric acid and can leach toxic heavy metals such as mercury and arsenic into the groundwater, lakes and rivers.