It’s time to throw out PolyMet’s illegal wastewater permit

Advocacy

The regulatory agencies that have been charged with overseeing PolyMet and Twin Metals, the two proposed copper-sulfide mining projects near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, should answer to the people. Their decisions should be guided by facts and science.

Unfortunately, politics and special influence have made Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) into partners of this toxic industry.

Photo: Benjamin Olson

Today, we filed a brief with the Minnesota Court of Appeals, asking the Court to remand the wastewater permit to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency for a contested-case hearing, where an impartial judge will carefully examine the facts and determine whether the permit was issued illegally.

“The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency has forgotten that its job is to protect our air, water, and land. Instead, our state regulators coddled a foreign mining conglomerate by issuing a wastewater permit to PolyMet that would pollute our clean water for centuries. The Pollution Control Agency went so far as to destroy documents and conceal the alarming warnings of an EPA scientist that the wastewater permit violated the Clean Water Act. We are simply asking for an administrative hearing so that we can present our evidence that the Pollution Control Agency failed to do its job,” says Chris Knopf, Executive Director at Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness.

Copper-sulfide mining has never been done in Minnesota. This is the first wastewater permit issued in Minnesota for a copper-sulfide mine.

The following are some of the most relevant legal points of the filing:

  1. In a landmark case, on April 28, 2021, the Minnesota Supreme Court ordered Minnesota DNR to hold a contested-case hearing on PolyMet’s “bentonite scheme” that is intended to prevent sulfuric acid from being leaking out of PolyMet’s tailings basin and into the surrounding water. The Court found that DNR lacked substantial evidence to support its decision to deny a contested-case hearing. Similarly, the Minnesota Court of Appeals should require a contested-case hearing on the wastewater permit that PCA issued for this misguided project.
  2. The Pollution Control Agency would allow PolyMet to pollute groundwater in violation of the Clean Water Act.
  3. The Pollution Control Agency was hell-bent on issuing the wastewater permit, going so far as to destroy documents and conceal the warnings of an EPA scientist that the permit would violate the Clean Water Act. EPA’s Office of Inspector General issued a scathing report, noting that PolyMet’s final wastewater permit did not address all the Clean Water Act violations identified by the EPA scientist.
  4. The Pollution Control Agency issued a wastewater permit to PolyMet that lacks numeric limits on the poisons that the mine would discharge into our rivers and groundwater. This absurd approach would let PolyMet claim that it is complying with operational controls in the permit, while at the same time discharge pollutants into our water that far exceed the limits in existing water quality standards:
  • Mercury: almost 770 times allowable limits
  • Lead: almost 94 times allowable limits
  • Cadmium: 20 times allowable limits
  • Arsenic: more than 9 times allowable limits

We are grateful to work with our invaluable partners – Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, WaterLegacy, Center for Biological Diversity, and the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa.

Above all, thanks to you, we have made incredible progress in the fight to protect our clean water.

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