Court continues PolyMet permit suspension, thanks to tribal and environmental advocacy

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By Matt Doll, Minnesota Environmental Partnership – (@mattjdoll)

On Thursday, the Minnesota Court of Appeals ordered that the permit to mine for the PolyMet project would continue to be suspended while it considers whether to accept or reject the permit. This decision came a day after the court heard arguments from the DNR and PolyMet in favor of the permit, and from the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa and several environmental groups (including MEP members Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy and WaterLegacy) in opposition.

In a nutshell, the decision to continue the suspension means that the Court will have more time to consider whether the PolyMet permit should be allowed to move forward, especially considering our evolving understanding of the waste storage technology it would rely on and whether PolyMet and its majority owner Glencore would pay up financially in the event of a catastrophe. It’s a significant victory for those concerned about the water, people, and ecosystems downstream from PolyMet in the St. Louis River Watershed, including the Fond du Lac Reservation.

Though it’s been long known that sulfide mining carries toxic hazards, it has become increasingly evident during this multi-year debate that PolyMet would fundamentally pose a permanent threat to Minnesota’s environment.

Even if PolyMet were to operate without a spill of acidic toxic waste during its few decades of operation, under the current permit, it would leave behind a dam full of waste for centuries, the kind of dam that burst in Brazil last year with deadly results. Future generations of Minnesotans would be on the hook entirely for maintaining the dam in the hope of preventing a spill or collapse. But given the extreme rainfall impacts of climate change in Minnesota, a spill of mine waste into the surrounding waters is all but inevitable.

Throughout the brief history of PolyMet, it’s sadly been clear that the process was not set up for a conclusion that prioritizes downstream communities, habitat, or precious water resources in the St. Louis River or Lake Superior. But thanks to the devoted efforts of our friends in tribal government and the environmental community, and the voices of Minnesotans around the state, there’s hope that the threat PolyMet poses may yet be rejected. This court case is a sign that we might yet see a decision that lives up to the words in the DNR mission: “to provide for commercial uses of natural resources in a way that creates a sustainable quality of life.”

How you can help: Polymet’s threats to our water, communities, and finances need better oversight, and it would greatly help to have a Legislative hearing on this issue. Sign this petition from Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness to help persuade lawmakers to hold these hearings in the public eye.

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