The Minnesota DNR has issued permits for the contentious PolyMet mining project in northern Minnesota.
The DNR announced the decision on Thursday, saying it's issuing a permit to mine, along with six water appropriation permits, two dam safety permits, a public waters work permit, and an endangered species takings permit for the "NorthMet" project.
The move is a significant step in what has been lengthy process for PolyMet, which wants to mine copper, nickel, cobalt and other precious metals on land near Hoyt Lakes and Babbitt in Minnesota's Iron Range.
The project would see the refurbishment of the former LTV Steel Mining processing plant pictured above.
The company still has to go through the process to get water and air quality permits from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and a wetlands permit from the Army Corps. of Engineers.
The permits approved by the DNR will allow PolyMet to operate open pit mining of 1.2 billion pounds of copper and 170 million pounds of nickel over its 20-year life.
DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr said: "No project in the history of Minnesota has been more thoroughly evaluated.
"Based on the DNR’s review, we are confident that the project can be built, operated, and reclaimed in compliance with Minnesota’s rigorous environmental standards, which are designed to protect human health and the environment," he added.
"This does not mean that the project will not have impacts, but it does mean that the project meets Minnesota’s regulatory standards for these permits."
Throughout the process, the state has had to weigh up the potential environmental impacts from the project with the boost to the economy in the state's Iron Range.
In the wake of the announcement, the environmental group Duluth for Clean Water said that the project is "bad for Minnesota and absolutely terrible for Duluth." said co-founder John Doberstein.
Doberstein says his organization will continue to fight the plans, including through legal challenges if necessary.
Meanwhile, the Center for Biological Diversity told MPR the project would pollute the headwaters of Lake Superior and "destroy huge swaths of the Superior National Forest that are critical to lynx, wolves and moose."