The Minnesota Supreme Court said Wednesday it will hear appeals from PolyMet and the state Department of Natural Resources to review a lower court decision that dealt a setback to the planned copper-nickel mine near Hoyt Lakes.
In January, the Minnesota Court of Appeals overturned three permits issued to the NorthMet project and required a contested case hearing, presenting a significant delay to the project. PolyMet and the Minnesota DNR petitioned the state Supreme Court to review the decision last month in what could be a precedent-setting case around the environmental review process.
“We are pleased the court agreed to review this case, which naturally is of great importance to PolyMet, but also has potentially far-reaching effects on any business seeking permits from the state,” said Jon Cherry, president and CEO of PolyMet, in a statement. “The Court of Appeals’ interpretation of the statute creates tremendous uncertainty for companies who want to invest in Minnesota and must seek permits from the DNR and Pollution Control Agency. We are looking forward to presenting our case to the Minnesota Supreme Court.”
The Court of Appeals ruled that the DNR erred when it declined to order a trial-like proceeding before a neutral administrative law judge known as a "contested case hearing" to gather more information on the potential environmental impacts from the mine. So the court sent PolyMet's permit to mine as well as two dam safety permits back to the agency with an order to hold the potentially lengthy proceeding before deciding whether to reissue the permits.
In court, PolyMet's opponents include the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy (MCEA), WaterLegacy and the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa. The anti-mining groups say 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 a waste pond dam collapse.
“The Minnesota Court of Appeals ruling that struck down PolyMet’s permits was well-reasoned, and we believe it will stand,” said Kathyrn Hoffman, CEO of the MCEA in a statement posted on Twitter. “The Court properly concluded that the risks of PolyMet’s proposal are too important not to be fully evaluated by an independent judge — a request DNR improperly denied during the permitting process.”
Oral arguments have not been set by the court.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.