S T. PABLO, Minnesota (AP) – The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources on Wednesday asked the state Supreme Court to overturn a decision of a lower court that rejected some of the most important permits for the proposed PolyMet copper and nickel mine.
The agency said in a statement that last month's decision of the Minnesota Court of Appeals could affect future mining proposals, iron mines currently in operation in the state, and a wide range of other state permit decisions. The agency called the decision "a significant deviation from the long-standing application of state mining law."
The case is one of several pending before the courts in the long battle for what would be the first copper and nickel mine in Minnesota. PolyMet filed a similar petition with the Supreme Court on Tuesday.
The Court of Appeals ruled that the DNR made a mistake by refusing to order a process similar to a trial before a neutral administrative law judge known as a "contested case hearing,quot; to gather more information about the possible environmental impacts of the mine. Therefore, the court sent the PolyMet permit to the mine and two dam security permits to the agency with an order to suspend the potentially prolonged procedure before deciding whether to reissue the permits.
PolyMet's opponents include the Minnesota Center for Environmental Defense, WaterLegacy and the Fond du Lac Band of Chippewa Lake Superior. They hope to use a contested case hearing to argue that the project's environmental and financial safeguards are inadequate to protect against acid mine drainage or the collapse of a dam from a waste pond.
"The ruling of the Minnesota Court of Appeals that overturned PolyMet's permits was well reasoned, and we believe it will continue," Kathryn Hoffman, the center's CEO, said in a statement. "The Court correctly concluded that the risks of the PolyMet proposal are too important for an independent judge not to fully evaluate, a request that the DNR unduly denied during the authorization process."
But the company says it has demonstrated the safety of the project by navigating the most comprehensive environmental review and permitting process in the history of Minnesota. He says the project between Babbitt and Hoyt Lakes in northeastern Minnesota will create almost 360 long-term jobs.
What is at stake in DNR and PolyMet appeals is how to properly interpret a state statute that governs when the agency must order contested case hearings, and how much discretion it has to determine when they are required or not.
The DNR said in its announcement that it will not question the value of the hearings of disputed cases when they would help the agency resolve a factual issue in dispute.
"However, in this case, we believe that the DNR thoroughly considered all matters of fact in dispute, produced substantial findings documenting the basis of our conclusions and properly concluded that holding a hearing would not resolve these disputes," the agency said.
PolyMet's lawyers wrote in their petition that if the decision of the Court of Appeals is upheld, "permits and environmental review throughout the state will be less predictable and more burdensome."
Jon Cherry, CEO and president of PolyMet, said in a statement that the appeals court "effectively opened the door to an unpredictable cycle of review and additional litigation."
If the Minnesota Supreme Court decides to hear the case, the judges would establish a schedule for the submission of reports and the holding of oral arguments. They could also let the decision of the Court of Appeals be upheld.
(© Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, transmitted, rewritten or redistributed.)