The proposed PolyMet mining project in northern Minnesota hit another roadblock Tuesday when the Minnesota Court of Appeals ordered a district court to examine how a water quality permit was handled.
Court documents state the court found "irregularities" in the permit process. The permit pertains to the amount of pollutants PolyMet can discharge into surrounding waters as it mines copper, nickel, cobalt and other metals near Hoyt Lakes and Babbitt in northern Minnesota.
According to court documents, the Environment Protection Agency’s comments on the permit were reduced to phone calls and interviews that “departed from typical procedures in addressing the NorthMet permit." Some of the comments were left off of the official administrative public record.
Last week, leaked emails between the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and the EPA showed the MPCA asked the EPA not to submit its concerns about the project during the public comment period.
“We have asked that EPA Region 5 not send a written comment letter during the public comment period and instead follow the steps outlined in the MOA (Memorandum of Agreement), and wait until we have reviewed and responded to public comments and made associated changes," MPCA Assistant Commissioner Shannon Lotthammer wrote in the leaked email.
MPCA approved the permit in December. After the EPA expressed concerns about some of its comments being left off of the public record, the organization announced it would launch an investigation into MPCA’s handling of the permit.
The Minnesota Legislative Auditor Jim Nobles has also said he would be reviewing the permit process in the wake of the leaked email.
MPCA spokesperson Darin Broton told the Star Tribune that they will comply with the district court inquiry, and maintained there was frequent communication between the two agencies.
Still, Broton conceded some miscommunication on MPCA’s part during the comment process.
"Clearly, in retrospect, the agency probably should have been a lot clearer with the EPA about how and when communications occurred," Broton told the Star Tribune.
Environment organizations like WaterLegacy and the Center for Biological Diversity have supported the motion to bring the permit to district court.