ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — A Minnesota appeals court issued a mixed opinion on Monday in a complicated case challenging one of the key permits a St. Paul-based company needs to build what would be the first mine in state copper-nickel.
The Minnesota Court of Appeals reversed a decision by regulators to issue PolyMet Mining Corp. a water quality permit for the project. It is now up to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency to determine whether pollution discharges from the mine into groundwater would violate federal water quality law.
However, the three-judge panel rejected several other arguments from PolyMet’s opponents. Among them was a demand for stricter limits on treated wastewater discharged from the mine and a call for a contested case hearing collect more evidence and testimonies on certain aspects of the license before a neutral judge, Minnesota Public Radio report.
Both parties said they were satisfied with the decision. “It’s a huge win,” said Paula Maccabee, advocacy director and attorney for WaterLegacy, one of the groups that challenged the permit. Jon Cherry, president and CEO of PolyMet, said the company was “pleased that we won on the majority of issues” and that the court narrowed the case down to one litigation.
While that means a further delay for the disputed project, it does not end the proposed billion-dollar open-pit mine that PolyMet has near the towns of Babbitt and Hoyt Lakes.
“We conclude that the PCA erred in failing to properly consider whether the federal Clean Water Act applies to any future releases from the PolyMet facility to groundwater. But we conclude that there is no reversible error with respect to all other issues raised by the parties,” the judges wrote in the 39-page opinion.
The decision is only the last step in a long legal battle that opponents of the PolyMet project have carried out since the state first approved it more than three years ago. Several other key permits PolyMet needs to begin construction also remain in litigation or have been referred to state agencies for additional work.
The company says the mine would create hundreds of jobs while providing the metals the US economy needs. Environmentalists have fought it because of the potential for acid mine drainage.
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