Federal judge rejects challenges to PolyMet land swap
ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — A federal judge has rejected challenges by several environmental groups to a land swap needed for the planned PolyMet copper-nickel mine in northeastern Minnesota.
U.S. District Judge Joan Ericksen dismissed the four lawsuits late Monday, ruling that the groups lacked the necessary legal standing to block the land exchange between PolyMet and the federal government. She said the groups couldn’t establish that they’d been harmed.
PolyMet traded 6,650 acres of federal land in the Superior National Forest at the mine site near Babbitt and Hoyt Lakes for a similar amount of private land last year. Several environmental groups sued to challenge various aspects of the deal, saying it undervalued the federal land and violated other laws, including the Endangered Species Act. PolyMet disputed those claims and persuaded the judge to dismiss the lawsuits.
Ericksen dismissed the lawsuits without prejudice, meaning the groups could refile them at some later point. They could also appeal to the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
The Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, which represented itself and two other groups in one of the lawsuits, said PolyMet got a bargain basement price of just $550 an acre, and that it will consult with its clients to determine their next steps.
“Everybody who pays taxes or uses our public lands was harmed by the PolyMet land giveaway,” the center’s CEO, Kathryn Hoffman, said in a statement. “The people of northern Minnesota deserved their day in court to challenge this sweetheart land deal for PolyMet and they haven’t gotten it yet.”
But PolyMet’s chief executive and president, Jon Cherry, said in a statement that the ruling was consistent with its position that the $1 billion project “stands on firm legal ground and meets all of the conditions required of it by a rigorous and lengthy environmental review and permitting process.”
The ruling has no direct effect on other appeals still pending against the project. The Minnesota Court of Appeals last month suspended two all-important permits for the mine pending a hearing Oct. 23. It ruled that the Department of Natural Resources failed to adequately consider two important developments that happened after the agency issued the permit to mine and dam safety permits in November 2018.
One was the massive failure of a tailings basin dam at an iron mine in Brazil in January that was somewhat similar to the dam PolyMet plans to build at its processing plant. The other is the acquisition of a majority stake in PolyMet by the Swiss commodities giant Glencore in June.
In a separate ruling, the appeals court in June suspended PolyMet’s water quality permit, which was issued by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, pending an investigation into whether that state agency and the federal Environmental Protection Agency attempted to keep EPA comments that were critical of the permit out of the public record.