Apr 28, 2021


Court remands permit for contested case hearing

logos of MCEA, Friends of the Boundary Waters, Fond Du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, Center for Biological Diversity, Water Legacy


CONTACTS: Sarah Horner, MCEA, shorner@mncenter.org, 612-868-3024 

Paula Maccabee, WaterLegacy, paula@waterlegacy.org, 651-646-8890 

Pete Marshall, Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness, 612-816-4475 

Rita (Aspinwall) Karppinen, Fond du Lac Band, RitaKarppinen@fdlrez.com 

Marc Fink, Center for Biological Diversity, mfink@biologicaldiversity.org, (218) 464-0539 


St. Paul and Duluth, Minnesota, Apr. 28, 2021 -- In a pivotal ruling Wednesday, the Minnesota Supreme Court sided with clean water advocacy groups (Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, WaterLegacy, Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness) and the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa and struck down PolyMet’s permit to mine, crippling the company’s sulfide mining proposal in Northeastern Minnesota. 

The decision is a resounding victory for downstream communities that would bear the brunt of pollution and would be at risk from the proposed mining project in St. Louis County, including the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, and all people who would drink the water, eat the fish, or harvest the wild rice contaminated by PolyMet pollution. The decision underscores the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources’ (DNR) failure to scrutinize what would be the first sulfide mining operation in the state, and signals an important change in how mining permits will be viewed by the courts in the future. 

Minnesota’s highest court found that DNR was required to subject PolyMet’s project to a contested case hearing before an impartial judge before granting PolyMet’s permits. The Court also ruled that DNR’s failure to specify a date by which PolyMet’s restoration would be complete violated state law. The decision overturns the permit to mine and returns it to the Minnesota DNR for a contested case hearing on the use of bentonite and other issues. 

The Supreme Court noted in its opinion that PolyMet’s modeling shows that pollution from the proposed mine would last 200 years or more after closure. This is why the two issues called out by the Supreme Court - the lack of a fixed term for the permit and the failure to prove that a clay bentonite cover will work at containing acid mine drainage - are so important.  The decision hits the reset button on PolyMet’s proposal, creating a powerful opportunity for Governor Tim Walz to undo the mistakes of past administrations and ensure the project is subjected to a thorough trial of the facts before moving forward.

“The Band is extremely pleased with the Supreme Court’s invalidation of the Permit to Mine. The decision recognizes that DNR failed to address significant factual and legal issues that must still be addressed. The Band is not opposed to mining, just irresponsible mining and will continue to advocate and fight to ensure that the waters, natural resources and environment are protected for the Band, its members and all Minnesotans” said Tribal Chairman Kevin Dupuis of the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa. 

“The people of Minnesota oppose this dangerous sulfide mine proposal and today the people won,” stated Kathryn Hoffman, Chief Executive Officer of the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy. “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.” 

“The Court’s decision today is a huge win for Minnesota clean water and downstream communities – and for every citizen who cares about clean water and environmental justice in our state,” said Paula Maccabee, Advocacy Director and Counsel for WaterLegacy. “With its permit to mine now overturned, PolyMet must start over or consider ending their failed effort to build a dangerous, toxic mine in Minnesota’s Lake Superior watershed.” 

“Today, Minnesotans won. Though the agencies failed to protect us, and though politicians did countless favors for PolyMet, the people are still in control, and today, the people won. Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa won. The people of Duluth won, and so did everyone who cares about clean water and our shared future,” stated Chris Knopf, Executive Director of the Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness. “However, the people’s trust in DNR and MPCA is shattered. Rather than defend our water and land, they teamed up with a Swiss mining conglomerate in an attempt to ram through a toxic copper-sulfide mine. There is still much work to be done. We need better protection against the corrupting and polluting industry. We need a Prove It First law in Minnesota.” 

“Polymet’s toxic mine proposal poses huge threats to northeastern Minnesota’s wildlife, wetlands, and downstream communities, so it’s critical that it receive the highest level of scrutiny,” said Marc Fink, senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The court’s ruling ensures a more thorough and objective review of this massive proposal. We believe the review will show that the headwaters of the Lake Superior watershed is absolutely not the place for this proposed open-pit copper mine.” 

This ruling is further evidence that Minnesota’s process for granting sulfide mining permits is broken. Minnesota courts have overturned three of the four PolyMet permits that the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and DNR issued. The MPCA’s water permit is suspended and a district court fact-finding showed the MPCA colluded with EPA to keep EPA’s comments out of the public record. Similarly, the federal permit allowing PolyMet to destroy thousands of acres of wetlands was recently suspended.

The Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy (MCEA), Friends of the Boundary Water Wilderness, and WaterLegacy appealed after the DNR issued permits to PolyMet in November 2018. MCEA also represented Center for Biological Diversity, Duluth for Clean Water, Friends of the Cloquet Valley State Forest, Save Lake Superior Association, and Save Our Sky Blue Waters.