MN Court of Appeals Hears Arguments About PolyMet

Renee Passal
Updated: October 23, 2019 07:07 PM

The Minnesota Court of Appeals is deciding whether to grant requests by opponents of the proposed PolyMet copper-nickel mine to cancel two of its most important permits and order further proceedings.


There was a nearly two hour oral arguments hearing on Wednesday morning in St. Paul. About 50 people packed into the chambers to listen. 

The two sides were to address the post-permit developments of Glencore becoming majority owner of PolyMet, and the dam failure in Brazil. That dam, according to the environmental groups, is similar in design to PolyMet's.

One of the attorneys for the appellates was Vanessa Ray-Hodge, who represents the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa. She said they don't believe the DNR can issue the permit to mine and tailings dam permits without final designs and specifications. "We are asking for a full review that is subject to public process. They have admitted in letters to us recently that they do believe additional review is needed, although we dispute their level of review is sufficient," she said.

Ann Cohen, representing several environmental groups, told the panel that PolyMet's permit to mine and its dam safety permit lack enforceable terms and conditions needed to protect the public and environment. "It's not legal for them to issue the permit based on hope, or approximately, or we'll find another way."
And Paula Maccabee, of the environmental group WaterLegacy, argued that the Department of Natural Resources was legally obligated to hold a contested case hearing with a neutral administrative law judge before deciding whether to approve the permits.
But attorneys for the DNR and PolyMet argued that the project has met the legal requirements. 

When addressing the dam safety issue, the attorney for the DNR, Jon Katchen said, "The DNR retained leading experts to review the dam and upstream dam design. And the fact is the safety factor, which is the most important, far exceeded what is required by state law. And when there was concerns brought up about the observational method and other things, they went and revised the permit and imposed conditions."

Another issue is Glencore, which became majority owner in June. Katchen said that whether or not Glencore is put on the permits is undetermined. "We've asked for information from both parties. Once we get that information and are briefed, we'll determine if Glencore meets the standard to be a co-permitee. It's about the level of control."

An attorney for PolyMet, Jay Johnson, said PolyMet plans on having independent safety monitors for the dam. When asked about Glencore and financial responsibility to the state of Minnesota, Johnson said, "PolyMet is committed to the state of Minnesota and its citizens. The Iron Range wants the jobs, and they are a big reason PolyMet exists."

The panel of three judges asked many questions during the hearing, asking how specifically things related to the law. The Court of Appeals usually rules within 90 days of hearing oral arguments.

After the hearing, Maccabee told a group of supporters that it was clear that the judges are paying close attention to the issue.

As of now, the court has stayed three permits for the project.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


Renee Passal

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