(The Center Square) – The Minnesota Supreme Court handed a partial win to environmentalists, overturning a Polymet mining permit and remanding the dispute to state regulators on whether a proposed structure would effectively prevent pollution from entering nearby water.
The Court’s Wednesday decision is a blow against Polymet, which has had some permits since 2018 but hasn’t been able to build the $1 billion copper-nickel mine in the state as lawsuits hindered progress.
In a 48-page opinion, the state’s highest court ruled the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) must hold a trial-like “contested-case hearing” on its plan’s “effectiveness” to line the proposed tailings dam with bentonite clay, a natural sealant, to contain pollution.
The court affirmed a 2020 Court of Appeals decision reversing the permit to mine because the DNR wrongly issued the permit “without an appropriate fixed term.” The Court ordered the DNR to set an appropriate definite term.
The Supreme Court also said the appeals court erred when it reversed two dam safety permits for the project because it misinterpreted state statute. However, the justices agreed the DNR didn’t abuse its discretion to decline a contested case public hearing because it had “substantial evidence support[ing] those decisions,” the justices ruled.
Environmental activists celebrated the ruling.
“The people of Minnesota oppose this dangerous sulfide mine proposal and today the people won,” Kathryn Hoffman, CEO of the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy said in a statement “Today, the Supreme Court hit the reset button on PolyMet. Now it’s up to Governor Walz and his agencies to make better decisions and protect Minnesotans and the water they depend on.”
Polymet hasn’t yet responded to a request for comment.