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Reversal of Polymet water permit latest in rulings, changes for proposed mine

The Minnesota Court of Appeals on Jan. 24 reversed a decision by state regulators to issue the PolyMet Mining Corp. a water quality permit for what would be the state’s first copper-nickel mine.

It now goes back to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency to determine whether any pollution discharges from the mine into groundwater would violate the federal Clean Water Act, the Associated Press reports.

Monday’s ruling is the latest in a string of significant events regarding permitting for the mine.

In December 2021, state regulators stood by their decision to issue an air quality permit for the proposed copper-nickel mine stood by, stating that PolyMet officials did not provide misleading information on its plans.

At that time, PolyMet CEO Jon Cherry said the action on the air permit “moves us one big step closer” to building the estimated $1 billion mine, which he said will contribute “numerous economic benefits to northeast Minnesota along with a U.S.-based supply of metals crucial for the transition to a greener economy.”

In April 2021, the Minnesota Supreme Court sent a separate permit back to the state Department of Natural Resources for further proceedings on whether the mine’s waste pond would effectively keep pollution contained.

The Supreme Court also affirmed a 2020 decision by the Minnesota Court of Appeals to reverse the DNR’s decision to grant PolyMet a critical “permit to mine” because the state agency failed to set a fixed term for the permit.

The varying lawsuits, legal action, court rulings and changes to permits is indeed a complex storyline to navigate in both a chronological and fact-based way.

Paula Maccabee is the advocacy director and legal counsel for Water Legacy. She spoke with WTIP’s Joe Friedrichs Jan. 25 about the recent court ruling and more on the permitting process for what would be the state’s first copper-nickel mine.