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Minnesota court hands victory to PolyMet copper-nickel project

NorthMet copper-nickel project plant site. (Image courtesy of PolyMet Mining)

The Minnesota Supreme Court has unanimously ruled in favor of the Clean Air Act permit issued by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, overturning an order by the state Court of Appeals that had remanded the permit back to the agency, PolyMet Mining (TSX: POM) (NYSE: PLM) announced Wednesday.

PolyMet owns 100% of the NorthMet Project, the first large-scale project to be permitted within the Duluth Complex in northeastern Minnesota, one of the world’s major, undeveloped mining regions.

Rejecting the central legal argument relied on by opponents of PolyMet’s project, the court ruled that the lower court had “relied on an erroneous interpretation of federal law” when it remanded the permit.

NorthMet is the first large-scale project to be permitted within the Duluth Complex in northeastern Minnesota, one of the world’s major, undeveloped mining regions

Last week, a federal judge dismissed a challenge to the US Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) oversight of a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System water quality permit issued to PolyMet.  

That challenge, filed in September 2019 by the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa in U.S. District Court in Minneapolis, had argued that EPA should have objected to PolyMet’s permit before it was issued. But Judge Patrick J. Schiltz held that it had no jurisdiction to review EPA’s oversight role, and so dismissed the Band’s claim.

“This decision is another big win and a major step forward in the defense of our air permit,” Jon Cherry, Polymet CEO said in Wednesday’s media release. “We believe strongly that the facts and the law are on our side, and we are pleased that the court agreed with us on the law. This is a victory for the company, our many stakeholders and for everyone that supports responsible mining in Minnesota.”

The ruling endorses the MPCA’s permitting process which involved a years-long review of the project and its potential effects on air quality, Cherry said.

“The decision provides additional clarity that will enable the company to move closer to mining the metals that are needed for improvement to U.S. infrastructure projects and production of electric vehicles and renewable energy technologies.”

Now that the Minnesota Supreme Court has ruled on the most significant legal issue, the case will return to the court of appeals for resolution of a few remaining items that the court did not specifically address in its original decision, Polymet said.

NorthMet comprises 290 million tonnes of proven and probable reserves grading 0.288% copper and 0.083% nickel and marketable reserves of palladium, cobalt, platinum and gold.

It would be Minnesota’s first copper-nickel mine.