Court Reverses PolyMet Permits, Calls for Contested Case Hearing

The MN Court of Appeals releases a decision about the PolyMet permits. The MN Court of Appeals releases a decision about the PolyMet permits. |  Photo: WDIO FILE

Updated: January 13, 2020 01:38 PM

On Monday, a big decision from the Minnesota Court of Appeals about the PolyMet project. The court reversed the permit to mine and the dam safety permits issued by the DNR, and said the DNR must hold a contested case hearing.


The Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy and other groups challenged the permits because they believe the permits violate applicable rules, lack enforceable standards, are based on incomplete plans, and rely on unproven technology.

The permits were issued by the DNR on November 1st, 2018, under the Governor Dayton administration. At that time, the DNR also denied a contested case hearing.

According to the plaintiffs in the case, a contested case hearing includes an independent administrative law judge, who issues an opinion after a trial where all parties can submit evidence.

In Monday's decision, the court said the DNR should have held a contested case hearing before making the permit decisions.The court said the DNR erred in issuing the permit to mine without a definite term. It also said, for any permit issued following remand, the DNR shall determine and impose an appropriate, definite term.

PolyMet declined to do any on-camera interviews on Monday. The company did send a statement, saying they will continue to push the project forward. "We obviously are disappointed in the court’s decision. The administrative record for the NorthMet Project is built on a comprehensive process of scientific study, analysis and public review and comment established in state law, which we participated in for 15 years. We and the regulatory agencies have strictly followed that process. We are reviewing the decision and exploring all of our options, including filing a petition for review to the Minnesota Supreme Court."

The DNR responded on Monday afternoon. “The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is reviewing the Minnesota Court of Appeals’ decision issued today regarding DNR-issued permits for PolyMet’s NorthMet project.  The Court reversed and remanded the permit to mine and two dam safety permits for a contested case hearing, while affirming the DNR’s decision to transfer the existing tailings basin permit to PolyMet.  We are carefully reviewing the Court’s opinion, which has implications not only for this project but for the role of contested case hearings in the state’s permitting framework more broadly.  Notably, the Court’s opinion does not draw conclusions about the validity of the scientific analyses underlying the DNR’s decisions.  We remain confident in the solid foundation of our technical work.”

In statement, the chairman of the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa said, "The Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa is pleased with the decision of the Court of Appeals, which recognizes the significant questions about the Project's design still remain. The Court's decision validates the Band's concerns about the ability of the Project to protect the environment, the public, and the Band's treaty resources."

Jobs for Minnesotans also put out a statement. "We are deeply disappointed by today’s decision from the Minnesota Court of Appeals, which creates uncertainties for the PolyMet NorthMet project and consequently hundreds of jobs for northeast Minnesota. While litigation is now an expected part of the regulatory review process and this ruling is a setback, we are confident that PolyMet will bring a safe and responsible copper-nickel mining industry to our state while also protecting the environment."

Just last week, the court heard more arguments about the MPCA and its decision to issue an air permit for the project. An order on that is expected within 90 days. 

And next week, a Ramsey County courtroom will be the place where a hearing will focus on permits for PolyMet and the EPA.

We will have more reaction about Monday's decision, at 5 and 6pm.

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