The bitter dispute over the air pollution permit for a north Minneapolis metal shredder will head to the Minnesota Court of Appeals, after a decision by a judge in Ramsey District Court on Monday.
Those attending a special meeting of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency Citizens' Board were treated to a rare moment on Monday. Midway through the meeting, Paul Aasen, the MPCA commissioner, announced that the meeting had to be adjourned because of an order by Judge David Higgs, staying all MPCA proceedings on the shredder, pending an appeals court decision.
For those of you who haven’t followed the ins and outs, Northern Metal Recycling wants to raise some pollution limits, loosen restrictions on what materials may be shredded and reduce the frequency of pollution testing. That does not sit well with a lot of people, from area legislators, to city council members, to the Park Board and the National Park Service.
The MPCA was originally planning to schedule a public hearing in April on the issue and then decide at a subsequent board meeting whether to issue an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). But last month Northern Metal suggested to Ramsey District Judge Elena Ostby that the MPCA was taking too long to make a decision and asked her to issue an order requiring that the MPCA make a decision this week on whether to do an EIS. Judge Ostby issued the order on Feb. 27, directing the MPCA to do that.
The MPCA did not like the decision. “We thought it was improperly issued,” Michelle Beeman, an assistant MPCA commissioner told me on Monday. “Judge Ostby issued the writ without us knowing about it or being able to attend the hearing.” So the MPCA asked that the whole matter be stayed and Ostby recused herself. At a court hearing on Monday morning in front of Higgs, the MPCA asked for a partial stay and Northern Metal decided to ask for a complete stay. I was unable to reach a Northern Metal representative before deadline.
Then, at the Monday afternoon MPCA hearing, the MPCA staff recommended to the board that it vote in favor of a preparing an EIS. Staff members said that a computer model of projected emissions at the shredding plant indicate that emissions would have violated federal regulations if it emitted the pollutants at the level spelled out in its permit application. “That means there is a potential for significant environmental effects” which could include “potential health impact,” Beeman said.
Members of the public were going to testify at the Monday afternoon MPCA meeting, but they got no chance because midway through the meeting, the board learned that Higgs issued his order. After a short recess, the meeting was reconvened and MPCA Commissioner Aasen read Higgs' brief order, stating that all proceedings were stayed, pending an outcome of an appeal to the state court of appeals. The meeting was adjourned.
This is a complicated story and I salute Tony Lonetree, the Star Tribune’s St. Paul courts reporter, who hustled around the Ramsey County Courthouse on deadline looking for court documents on the case on Monday. For those of you wanting more information about the Northern Metal dispute, I recommend you take a look at an article that Star Tribune reporter Steve Brandt wrote.