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MN Supreme Court affirms block of key PolyMet mine permit

The court on Wednesday sent the Hoyt Lakes copper-nickel mine dispute back to the state Department of Natural Resources for further proceedings.
Credit: AP
FILE - This Feb. 10, 2016 file photo shows a former iron ore processing plant near Hoyt Lakes, Minn., that would become part of a proposed PolyMet copper-nickel mine. (AP Photo/Jim Mone, File)

MINNEAPOLIS — The Minnesota Supreme Court has given a victory to environmentalists in the long-running battle over the proposed PolyMet copper-nickel mine in northeastern Minnesota. 

The justices on Wednesday affirmed a lower court's decision to reverse the critical "permit to mine" for the $1 billion Hoyt Lakes project, and ordered further proceedings. 

The court says the state Department of Natural Resources should have set a fixed time period for the permit to mine.

The court also ordered the DNR to conduct a trial-like proceeding known as a "contested case hearing" to gather more evidence on whether the planned bentonite clay lining for the mine's waste basin would keep pollution contained. This will delay the beginning of mining. 

The high court agreed that the DNR and Polymet never successfully explained how well the clay bottom to the retention pond will work to keep toxins out.

The DNR issued a statement Wednesday, saying it's currently reviewing the court's decision. The rest of the statement read:

"We appreciate and respect the Court’s careful evaluation of issues related to the DNR’s first application of Minnesota’s non-ferrous mining statute and rules.

Notably, the Court offered a clarifying interpretation of who has standing to request a contested case hearing, but concurred with the DNR’s application of the standards for granting a contest case hearing. 

The Court found ample evidence in the permit records to support the DNR’s decisions on the critical issues of dam safety and tailings basin closure. 

The Court further found that DNR did not need to hold a contested case hearing on financial assurance or whether Glencore was required to be on the permit to mine at the time of permit issuance.

We will carefully review and implement the Court’s instructions regarding establishing a fixed term for the permit to mine and granting a contested case hearing on whether bentonite is a practicable and workable technology to reduce oxygen infiltration into the project tailings."