PolyMet appeals air permit decision on controversial Minnesota mine

If permitted, PolyMet’s NorthMet project would become Minnesota’s first copper-nickel mine. Credit: PolyMet Mining

PolyMet Mining (TSX: POM) has petitioned the Minnesota Supreme Court to review a lower court ruling on the company’s air permit, which is necessary for a proposed copper-nickel mine on the Iron Range to go ahead.

The company is seeking to overturn a Court of Appeals ruling dated March 23 that sent its air permit back to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) for review, stating that the agency should have considered a report that said the company is looking to expand the operation.

The Court of Appeals’ decision was based on a report released by PolyMet outlining the company’s plans to recover 118,000 tonnes of ore per day, instead of the 32,000 tonnes listed in its permit applications.

The Court of Appeals’ decision was based on a report released by PolyMet in March 2018 outlining the company’s plans to recover 118,000 tonnes of ore per day, instead of the 32,000 tonnes listed in its permit applications.

If permitted, the proposed $1 billion mine would become the first-ever copper-nickel operation in the state, with an estimated 290 million tonnes of proven and probable reserves grading 0.29% copper and 0.08% nickel.

The air permit, issued in December 2018, would allow the company to release 250 tonnes of regulated pollutants per year, but opponents of the mine argue that the company will exceed that limit if it were to recover more ore.

According to PolyMet officials, the mining company is asking the Supreme Court to clarify when a court of appeals can require an agency to make additional findings, and whether it can presume without evidence that an agency will not enforce its permits.

In March, Glencore issued up to $30 million in unsecured convertible debentures to help fund PolyMet’s legal battles

“The Court of Appeals’ decision creates regulatory uncertainty that could have far-reaching, negative implications for businesses seeking permits in the state,” president and CEO Jon Cherry said in a press release.

He added that the company remains “determined and confident” that it will advance the copper-nickel mine, which he believes will create more than 1,000 direct and spinoff jobs and approximately two million hours of construction labor in the northeastern Minnesota region.

“It’s one way Minnesota can meaningfully contribute to climate change solutions by furnishing the copper, nickel, cobalt and other metals that are so critical to the manufacture of renewable energy technologies such as solar arrays, wind turbines and electric vehicles,” he said.

This is the second petition PolyMet has made to the Supreme Court to review a Court of Appeals decision. On March 25, the Supreme Court granted petitions for review from both PolyMet and the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) on a ruling in January from the lower court remanding the mining and dam safety permits to the DNR.

PolyMet’s proposal to build an open-pit copper-nickel mine near Hoyt Lakes has been widely criticized by environmental groups who are concerned about the mine’s possible impact on nearby water sources.

Last year, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) launched a probe into the permitting process amid doubts about the project’s compliance with Clean Water Act requirements.

The company’s water quality permit remains on hold after an order by the Court of Appeals in August, citing evidence of “procedural irregularities” in the way the permit was issued.

In March, Swiss mining giant Glencore, PolyMet’s majority shareholder, issued up to $30 million in unsecured convertible debentures to help fund PolyMet’s legal battles.

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