Environmental groups call for suspension of PolyMet mine permits

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Several environmental groups descended on state offices in St. Paul Thursday, demanding the DNR and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency immediately suspend permits for the controversial PolyMet mine project in northeastern Minnesota.

“I have in my hands a stop sign to stop PolyMet from polluting the St. Louis River and Lake Superior downstream,” said Chris Knopf of Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness. “PolyMet is trying to pull a bait and switch on the people of Minnesota here.”

“Our region is at stake,” said Michael Mayou of Duluth for Clean Water. “Our future is at stake.”

Last week, the DNR signed off on the major permitting process for the proposed copper-nickel mine, a unique project for the Iron Range more than a decade in the making. Following the meeting, the DNR commissioner seemed to anticipate continuing battles over the mine with environmental litigation already pending.

The environmental groups, including Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness, are particularly concerned about the idea PolyMet might be planning a much bigger mining operation than their original proposal. They cite financial filings the company made earlier this year in Canada.

The groups are now asking the Court of Appeals to suspend the state permits and block further progress until the courts can rule on those lawsuits with oral arguments expected in the next few months.

“Case law says that environmental review must examine the cumulative effects of the entire project,” said Paula Maccabee, a WaterLegacy attorney. “A bait and switch plan to permit a smaller project and then massively enlarge it later without public scrutiny violates environmental laws.”

In regards to the filing, Bruce Richardson of PolyMet mining released the following response: 

“The final permits we received from the state last week and those currently pending final decisions are based on a mine plan that was the subject of a 14-year-long environmental review and permitting process, and which we plan to build. We have no other mine proposals.”