Minnesota Court grants PolyMet review of permit

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

The Minnesota Supreme Court will review a lower court ruling against PolyMet Mining (TSX: POM) regarding air permits for the company’s proposed copper-nickel mine near Hoyt Lakes and Babbitt.

In a ruling dated March 23, the Minnesota Court of Appeals remanded PolyMet’s air permit to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) for further review, saying that the agency should have considered a report released in 2018 which claimed that the company is aiming for a much larger operation.

The proposed mine on the Iron Range would become Minnesota’s first copper-nickel operation with an estimated 290 million tonnes of proven and probable reserves grading 0.29% copper and 0.08% nickel

Subsequently, both PolyMet and the MPCA petitioned the Minnesota Supreme Court to review this case, seeking to overturn the Court of Appeals decision on the air permit.

If permitted, the proposed mine on the Iron Range would become Minnesota’s first copper-nickel operation with an estimated 290 million tonnes of proven and probable reserves grading 0.29% copper and 0.08% nickel.

However, the $1 billion NorthMet project has been met with criticism and resistance from environmental groups who are concerned about its potential impact on nearby water sources.

“We believe the MPCA in its permit appropriately accounted for the potential effects of the NorthMet project on the airshed,” PolyMet president and CEO Jon Cherry said in a press release.

“The Court of Appeals’ decision creates tremendous uncertainty for companies who want to invest in Minnesota and must seek permits from the state.”

Opponents of the project said the Court of Appeals decision should stand as they believe the company would discharge more pollutants than permitted should it follow the 2018 project plan, and they would defend their position to the Supreme Court.

PolyMet has successfully defended itself in six of the 11 state and federal cases challenging the project

This is the second case in which the Supreme Court has granted review of the lower court’s ruling on the NorthMet project permits.

In April, the court granted PolyMet and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources’ (DNR) requests to review the Court of Appeals’ January 13 ruling, which sent the company’s permit to mine and two dam safety permits back to the DNR for a contested case hearing. The court is expected to hear that case later this year.

PolyMet has successfully defended itself in six of the 11 state and federal cases challenging the project, the company said. The remaining five cases – three state and two federal – are in various stages of litigation or appeal, including the two cases now pending before the Minnesota Supreme Court.

Meanwhile, the company’s national pollutant discharge elimination system (NPDES) permit, which regulates water discharged from industrial activities, remains on hold following an order by the Court of Appeals last August amid reports of ‘procedural irregularities’ involving the MPCA and the Environmental Protection Agency.

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