PolyMet’s real plan - at least if you believe what it tells its investors - is to build a bigger mine. PolyMet even had their consultants analyze a version of the mine plan that would mine four times faster than their permitted capacity. PolyMet’s processing plant (formerly operated by LTV Steel) would have the potential to crush and process over 100,000 tons of ore per day, yet the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) issued PolyMet’s air pollution permit assuming PolyMet will use less than a third of that capacity.
Why does this matter? By ignoring PolyMet’s true plans, MPCA allowed PolyMet to operate without the “best available control technology” on its air pollution. That means they used less protective standards, and based that decision on PolyMet’s promise to not use the full capacity of the plant they own.
MCEA appealed to stop this bait-and-switch and won an unanimous opinion at the Minnesota Court of Appeals to overturn this “sham permit.” PolyMet and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency asked the Minnesota Supreme Court to review the case, and the Supreme Court agreed to take the appeal. We are currently briefing the case, and expect oral arguments in late 2020 and a decision in 2021. While that appeal proceeds, PolyMet cannot operate without a valid air pollution permit.
Key Timeline Event
Minnesota Supreme Court agrees to review Court of Appeals decision
After petitions from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and PolyMet, the Minnesota Supreme Court agrees to review the case.
PolyMet and State of Minnesota request Supreme Court review of decision
On April 21, PolyMet and the State of Minnesota each request that the Minnesota Supreme Court review the Court of Appeals decision.
Minnesota Court of Appeals rules for MCEA, remands permit to agency for investigation
In an unanimous decision, the Minnesota Court of Appeals finds that the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency had failed to fully investigate whether the air pollution permit was a “sham permit.” The Court remanded (returned) the permit to the MPCA to investigate PolyMet’s expansion plans and whether they should modify the air pollution permit.
Oral argument at the Court of Appeals
MCEA attorney Evan Mulholland represented us and our clients (Sierra Club, Center for Biological Diversity and Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness) at the Court of Appeals. Audio of the oral argument is available at this link.
MCEA appeals air pollution permit
Under Minnesota law, people and organizations have 30 days after the issuance of a permit to appeal. The appeal goes to the Minnesota Court of Appeals and starts months of briefing where lawyers on all sides submit briefs on the case to the Court.
Minnesota Pollution Control Agency issues PolyMet air pollution permit
In his last few days as MPCA Commissioner, John Linc Stine signs the air pollution permit for PolyMet. PolyMet is issued a “synthetic minor” permit, in which PolyMet agrees to limit their operations to a certain level and less protective standards are included in the permit.
MCEA asks Minnesota Pollution Control Agency to investigate “sham permitting”
MCEA attorney Evan Mulholland sends a letter to MPCA detailing evidence that PolyMet is planning a much larger mine than what is being considered for an air pollution permit. In December, a follow up letter is sent after the agency fails to respond. Six days after the second letter, MPCA replies with a short letter denying the request to investigate.