Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, January 13, 2020


Marc Fink, (218) 464-0539,

Minnesota Appeals Court Strikes Down PolyMet Copper-sulfide Mine Permit, Orders New Hearing

ST. PAUL, Minn.― The Minnesota Court of Appeals overturned state permits today that would allow PolyMet to construct Minnesota’s first copper-sulfide mine, ordering a new hearing before an administrative law judge.

Tens of thousands of Minnesotans filed comments opposing the PolyMet open-pit mine. Thousands of Minnesotans came to public-information sessions to oppose granting permits to PolyMet. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources’ own experts expressed concern about the safety of PolyMet’s proposed dam. Regulatory agencies ignored these concerns and approved the permits anyway.

Tribal, conservation and clean-water groups appealed the permits in December 2018.

In today’s ruling the court ordered a contested case hearing, in which an administrative law judge issues an opinion after a trial where all parties submit evidence. The court’s decision requires the Department of Natural Resources to make a permit decision based on that evidence. In the meantime PolyMet cannot construct or operate its proposed mine.

Other cases related to the PolyMet mine proposal are pending. On Jan. 21 the Ramsey County District Court will begin a trial on whether the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency suppressed the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s critical comments on the water quality permit. Currently the water-quality permit is suspended, and challenges to the air quality permit and the Clean Water Act Section 404 wetlands permit are also pending.

Plaintiffs in the appeals reacted to today’s win overturning the PolyMet permits.

“The Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa is pleased with the decision of the court of appeals, which recognizes that significant questions about the project’s design still remain,” said Kevin R. Dupuis, Sr., chairman of the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa. “The court’s decision validates the Band’s concerns about the ability of the Project to protect the environment, the public, and the Band’s treaty resources.”

“The DNR approved PolyMet’s sulfide mine proposal without a full, fair and fact-based hearing,” said Kathryn Hoffman, chief executive officer of the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy. “The court’s decision shows that the process that granted these permits is broken, and the court’s intervention means that the ultimate decision on PolyMet will be based on science and the law.”

“This is an enormous victory for the people of Minnesota and the rule of law,” said Paula Maccabee, advocacy director and counsel for WaterLegacy. “By ordering a contested case hearing, the court has dragged the PolyMet permitting process into the light. PolyMet’s toxic threats to water, human health, downstream communities, and taxpayers will finally get the scrutiny they deserve.”

“Today is a win for the people of Minnesota, a win for clean water, and a win for the future of the Boundary Waters,” said Chris Knopf, executive director of Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness. “The DNR did not protect the taxpayers from being stuck with the long-term costs of mine, and failed to come clean on the role of Glencore. The DNR did not do its job, and the court made the right call.”

“The wildlife and downstream communities of northeastern Minnesota can breathe a sigh of relief,” said Marc Fink, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “We’ll finally have a contested case hearing to help resolve the very difficult questions that remain about this toxic mine proposal. The PolyMet mine poses a severe threat for generations to come, and we won’t stop fighting until these waters, wildlife and lands are protected for good.”

“It is the government’s highest responsibility to protect its citizenry,” said Lori Andresen, president of Save Our Sky Blue Waters. “Northern Minnesota residents shouldn’t be subjected to PolyMet’s high-risk sulfide mine. Mercury, sulfates, arsenic, and other toxic heavy metals are known to have severe adverse effects on human health, wildlife and the environment. We cannot allow a foreign mining company to destroy and pollute the headwaters region of northeast Minnesota. It is simply unacceptable.”

“The PolyMet mine would expose the Lake Superior watershed to a new and more toxic source of water pollution from copper-nickel sulfide mining,” said Le Roger Lind, president of Save Lake Superior Association. “Children are especially at risk from mercury and toxic heavy metals in water, air and local fish, as a food supply. Despite their assertions, the corporations and state agencies have not been able to demonstrate their ability to protect the public from these health threats.”

“The people of northern Minnesota have long struggled for their concerns to be heard with regard to this dangerous mine plan,” said Kristin Larsen, executive director of Friends of the Cloquet Valley State Forest. “It is clear to many that the PolyMet plan poses a huge risk our region’s ecosystem, to our health and to that of people separated from the mine in time and distance. We are grateful for the work of Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, the Fond du Lac Band and the other organizations who’ve contributed to this effort.”

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.6 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

center locations