PolyMet opponents ask state to suspend permits with legal case pending

Mike Mayou, of the group Duluth for Clean Water, speaks at a news conference outside Minnesota Department of Natural Resources headquarters in St. Paul on Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018. Elizabeth Dunbar | MPR News

Opponents of the PolyMet mining company's plan for a copper-nickel mine in northern Minnesota asked state officials Thursday to suspend permits issued last week, saying they want a legal case before the Minnesota Court of Appeals to be considered before the project moves forward.

The state Department of Natural Resources issued the project a permit to mine, along with several other necessary permits, last Thursday. It still needs several additional state, local and federal permits before mining can begin. • The Polymet mine: 4 things to know

But several environmental groups — Water Legacy, the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, Duluth for Clean Water and Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness and others — argue that more regulatory scrutiny is needed in the case. And they're asking the DNR to suspend the permits it's issued until their case before the appeals court is resolved.

They argue that PolyMet's recent filings suggest the company is considering scenarios for an expanded mine and processing operation outside the towns of Babbitt and Hoyt Lakes, Minn. And they're unsatisfied with the state's assessment of the project's risks to water quality and public health, saying a supplemental environmental impact statement is needed.

They have asked the state Court of Appeals to order one. It's one of many legal strategies environmental groups are likely to use to try to halt the project.

"Under Minnesota law, when a project change is reasonably likely, and would affect the environment, that project can't go forward without evaluating the harm to natural resources and to public health," Paula Maccabee, advocacy director and attorney for Water Legacy, said at a news conference outside DNR headquarters in St. Paul Thursday. • Mining, environmental concerns: Boundary Waters on the ballot — and the airwaves

Maccabee said she expects the appeals court to hear arguments in their case this winter. The environmentalists' request to suspend the DNR's permits is the first step in a complicated legal process, she said.

"Our region is at stake, our future is at stake," Mike Mayou, an activist with the group Duluth for Clean Water, said at Thursday's news conference. "Duluth is in a very unique position. We're on the Arrowhead and we're in the Lake Superior Watershed."

The DNR has until Dec. 3 to respond, according to the environmental groups' legal filing.

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