Environmental groups ask Minnesota Supreme Court to review state’s mining regulations

Minnesota Supreme Court justices. Front Row L to R: Justice G. Barry Anderson, Chief Justice Lorie S. Gildea, Justice David L. Lillehaug
Back Row L to R: Justice Anne K. McKeig, Justice Natalie E. Hudson, Justice Margaret H. Chutich, Justice Paul C. Thissen (Photo courtesy Minnesota Judicial Branch)

The Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy and the Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness have filed a petition with the state’s highest court to assess rules that are meant to manage mining operations. The filing comes after the Minnesota Court of Appeals rejected a lawsuit by the groups that challenged the mining permits the Department of Natural Resources has issued to PolyMet.

The groups say neither the DNR’s rules or the permits have standards like discharge limits that will allow regulators to protect the environment.

“Minnesotans have been told that we have strong standards that protect our water and people from pollution that PolyMet and other copper-nickel mines would create,” said Aaron Klemz, Director of Public Engagement at MCEA. “But in reality, our rules are full of loopholes and lack clear and enforceable standards. That’s why we’ve asked the Minnesota Supreme Court to review this case.”

They point to statements by PolyMet’s own attorney during arguments at the Court of Appeals as proof that the state’s laws are too loose. The lawyer told the court “‘the term ‘standards’ doesn’t even appear’ in the statute regulating copper-nickel mining.”

The organization’s Tweet below includes an audio recording of the PolyMet lawyer’s statement in the Court of Appeals.

In a statement, the organizations said the case is important for the Supreme Court to ensure that rules “cannot simply allow the DNR and the applicant to decide what is best.” And they say the issue is likely to come up again if it’s not clarified.

The legal petition concludes that with copper-nickel mining just getting going in Minnesota, it’s important to establish now that regulatory agencies don’t have unlimited leeway in how they enforce the state’s environmental protections.

“This Court should review this case to ensure that rules adopted to protect the public can be challenged by the public, and that we have ‘a government of laws and not of men,” MCEA wrote in its filing, referencing Founding Father John Adams.

MCEA and partner Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness represent clients Duluth for Clean Water, Center for Biological Diversity, Save Lake Superior Association, Friends of the Cloquet Valley State Forest and Save Our Sky Blue Waters on the case.

The Minnesota Supreme Court reviews approximately 700 petitions per year and agrees to consider about 10-12 percent of the cases.


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