Pressure leads to hearings on PolyMet permit

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By Matt Doll, Minnesota Environmental Partnership – @mattjdoll

On Tuesday, the Minnesota Court of Appeals ordered a hearing in Ramsey County District Court to review evidence that the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) pressured the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to keep the EPA’s concerns about PolyMet’s water pollution out of the public record. This order came in response to an appeal led by several environmental organizations and tribes that seeks to overturn the water permit, which is a lynchpin in permitting the PolyMet project.

At the same time, the Office of the Legislative Auditor (an authority that conducts oversight of state agencies) began its own investigation of the PolyMet process after receiving a request to do so from Representative Rick Hansen of South St. Paul.

Both investigations – and the internal inquiry conducted at the EPA – will seek to determine if the MPCA’s interactions with the EPA related to PolyMet constitute improper or illegal conduct.

As we wrote last week, regardless of the legality of this plan – in which the EPA agreed to discuss water pollution concerns over the phone rather than in the written record – it violated Minnesotans’ public trust and the principle of transparency in government. Minnesotans were given no opportunity to weigh in on EPA employees’ concerns about the permit for this high risk project.

It’s well-established that the sulfide mining that PolyMet would conduct has never been done in the United States without polluting the surrounding water. The recent acquisition of a majority of PolyMet’s stock by its main backer, the Swiss mining giant Glencore, does not raise confidence in its ability to avoid pollution: Glencore’s mines have been fined and investigated for water pollution and abuses in multiple countries.

Minnesotans deserve nothing less than a full, transparent picture of PolyMet’s risks and consequences. The actions of the MPCA and EPA raise doubts that this standard has been met.

The investigations may well provide new information that needs to be considered – and create even greater doubt on the entire PolyMet water permit process – doubt that is already growing based on what we already know.

Minnesota needs answers more than Glencore needs another polluting mine.

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