Court orders computer search for MPCA information on PolyMet

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

On Tuesday, Ramsey County District Judge John Guthmann ordered that a forensic search be conducted on the computers of former top Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) officials responsible for overseeing the PolyMet mine permit process. The search will involve the physical collection and investigation of those computers to find emails and other records. It’s part of an ongoing legal inquiry on whether the MPCA improperly suppressed the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)’s water pollution concerns on PolyMet, keeping them out of the public record.

This is an important step toward transparency. As we covered in June, when these allegations first emerged following the release of several emails by the EPA employee’s union, this suppression of water concerns and public comment may have violated state law, and certainly did not serve the cause of an open and responsive public process.

Transparency is always key in environmental decision-making, but it’s absolutely essential when it comes to PolyMet, because Minnesota can’t afford to get it wrong. Sulfide mining is a highly environmentally hazardous activity, and has led to contaminated land and water sites around the world. The St. Louis River watershed, which leads to the Twin Ports on Lake Superior, could become the next such site in the alarmingly likely event of a mine waste storage catastrophe. PolyMet would also have a tremendous negative climate impact, requiring significant quantities of fossil fuels in its operation and the destruction of carbon-absorbing wetlands in its construction.

For these reasons, it’s important that the public trust is restored in the PolyMet permitting process. Minnesotans deserve to know that the process did not have a foregone result – that conclusions were determined by the facts. And if this wasn’t the case, we deserve a result that protects the public trust and interest and overturns a wrongly-established permit, as the Minnesota Court of Appeals is now considering.

The result of this search and of the PolyMet case won’t just impact this site in the St. Louis River watershed, but the larger picture of sulfide mining in Minnesota. The Twin Metals mine near the edge of the Boundary Waters will soon undergo an environmental review, and it’s likely that a completed permit for PolyMet would set a precedent paving the way for this and other sulfide mining projects. Minnesota’s water resources are under threat as it is. Opening the door these sulfide mines would put these waters and the communities that rely on them in jeopardy.

We thank our friends at organizations including Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness, WaterLegacy, and Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, as well as Minnesota tribes for their leadership on this issue. Minnesotans are right to demand clear skies, clean waters, and a clear, clean public process.

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