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Appeals challenge Minnesota's PolyMet copper mine permits, mining rules

Mining News - Published on Thu, 06 Dec 2018

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Conservation and clean-water groups appealed state permits issued for the PolyMet open-pit copper mine in northern Minnesota and filed a separate appeal challenging the state’s mining rules. The groups’ appeal, filed in the Minnesota Court of Appeals, challenges permits issued by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources allowing PolyMet to operate the 528-acre copper-nickel mine and appropriate 6 billion gallons of water per year. In addition to the permit appeals, a separate filing asks the same court to overturn Minnesota’s non-ferrous mining rules, saying they are too vague to be adequately enforced by courts and regulatory agencies.

Mr Kathryn Hoffman, chief executive officer of the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, said that “The courts must hold the DNR accountable to the law or PolyMet’s permits will be a blank check, paid for by the clean water, health, and pocketbooks of Minnesotans.”

The department ignored tens of thousands of Minnesotans who asked it to protect people and the environment from PolyMet’s proposed mine, and instead issued “permission slips.”

The permits for PolyMet’s proposed mine do not protect people downstream from pollution the mine would create. The department arbitrarily rejected less risky alternatives for managing mine waste. The permits allow PolyMet to threaten water downstream for hundreds of years after mining ends, fail to address concerns of engineers who fear the mine’s proposed waste dam is dangerous and fails to protect Minnesota taxpayers from being stuck with up to $1 billion in cleanup costs.

Chris Knopf, executive director of Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness, said that “Taxpayers fund Minnesota DNR believing the agency will responsibly manage our natural resources. With PolyMet, they put mining interests first and gave judicial review, popular opinion, and environmental considerations the back seat.”

The state permits also fail to define how long PolyMet will be allowed to mine or describe PolyMet’s exact mining and closure plans. Minnesota rules require final design plans to be submitted before permits are issued, but the state agency’s permits allow PolyMet to develop the open-pit mine and submit plans for closure later. The permits do not establish any standards for the approval of these future plans, and the public will not be able to comment on them.

Paula Maccabee, advocacy director and counsel for WaterLegacy, said that “There is a myth in Minnesota that we have tough regulators. Just the opposite. The DNR has granted PolyMet a permit to mine admitting that its ‘design and operational details’ are not ‘firmly in place.’ At the very least, with Minnesota’s first proposed sulfide mine, we should demand that no permits be issued unless and until PolyMet shows us — and an unbiased administrative judge — that they know what they’re doing.”

The appeals also challenge the state agency’s decision to deny requests for a contested case hearing. The hearing would allow the case to be reviewed by a neutral administrative law judge, which is common for large and complex projects. The groups argue that the department was required to grant a contested case hearing before it issued the permits.

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Posted By : Nanda Koijam on Thu, 06 Dec 2018
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