Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, April 28, 2021


Sarah Horner, Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, (612) 868-3024,
Paula Maccabee, WaterLegacy, (651) 646-8890,
Pete Marshall, Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness, (612) 816-4475
Rita (Aspinwall) Karppinen, Fond du Lac Band,
Marc Fink, Center for Biological Diversity, (218) 464-0539,

Minnesota Supreme Court Overturns PolyMet Mining Permit, Sends It Back for New Hearing

ST. PAUL, Minn.— The Minnesota Supreme Court sided with clean water advocacy groups and the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa today, striking down PolyMet’s permit to mine and crippling the company’s sulfide mining proposal in northeastern Minnesota.

The court found that the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources was required to subject PolyMet’s mining plan to a contested case hearing before an impartial judge before granting PolyMet’s permits. The court also ruled that the department’s failure to specify a date by which PolyMet’s restoration would be complete violated state law. The decision overturns the permit to mine and returns it to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources for a contested case hearing on the use of bentonite and other issues.

“The Band is extremely pleased with the Supreme Court’s invalidation of the permit to mine,” said Tribal Chairman Kevin Dupuis of the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa. “The decision recognizes that DNR failed to address significant factual and legal issues that must still be addressed. The Band is not opposed to mining, just irresponsible mining and will continue to advocate and fight to ensure that the waters, natural resources and environment are protected for the Band, its members and all Minnesotans.”

“The people of Minnesota oppose this dangerous sulfide mine proposal and today the people won,” said Kathryn Hoffman, chief executive officer of the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy. “Today, the Supreme Court hit the reset button on PolyMet. Now it’s up to Gov. Walz and his agencies to make better decisions and protect Minnesotans and the water they depend on.”

“The court’s decision today is a huge win for Minnesota clean water and downstream communities — and for every citizen who cares about clean water and environmental justice in our state,” said Paula Maccabee, advocacy director and counsel for WaterLegacy. “With its permit to mine now overturned, PolyMet must start over or consider ending their failed effort to build a dangerous, toxic mine in Minnesota’s Lake Superior watershed.”

“Today, Minnesotans won. Though the agencies failed to protect us, and though politicians did countless favors for PolyMet, the people are still in control, and today, the people won. Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa won. The people of Duluth won, and so did everyone who cares about clean water and our shared future,” said Chris Knopf, executive director of the Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness. “However, the people’s trust in DNR and MPCA is shattered. Rather than defend our water and land, they teamed up with a Swiss mining conglomerate in an attempt to ram through a toxic copper-sulfide mine. There is still much work to be done. We need better protection against the corrupting and polluting industry. We need a Prove It First law in Minnesota.”

“PolyMet’s toxic mine proposal poses huge threats to northeastern Minnesota’s wildlife, wetlands and downstream communities, so it’s critical that it receive the highest level of scrutiny,” said Marc Fink, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The court’s ruling ensures a more thorough and objective review of this massive proposal. We believe the review will show that the headwaters of the Lake Superior watershed are absolutely not the place for this proposed open-pit copper mine.”

The decision is a victory for downstream communities that would bear the brunt of pollution and would be at risk from the proposed mining project in St. Louis County, including the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, and all people who would drink the water, eat the fish or harvest the wild rice contaminated by PolyMet pollution.

It also underscores the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources’ failure to scrutinize what would be the first sulfide mining operation in the state and signals an important change in how mining permits will be viewed by the courts in the future.

The Supreme Court noted in its opinion that PolyMet’s modeling shows that pollution from the proposed mine would last 200 years or more after the mine closes.

Minnesota courts have overturned three of the four PolyMet permits issued by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and the Department of Natural Resources. The agency’s water permit was suspended, and a district court showed the agency colluded with the Environmental Protection Agency to keep EPA’s comments out of the public record. The federal permit allowing PolyMet to destroy thousands of acres of wetlands was recently suspended.

The Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, Friends of the Boundary Water Wilderness and WaterLegacy appealed after the department issued permits to PolyMet in November 2018. Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy also represented the Center for Biological Diversity, Duluth for Clean Water, Friends of the Cloquet Valley State Forest, Save Lake Superior Association and Save Our Sky Blue Waters.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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