Opinion editor’s note: This article was signed by several leaders of environmental organizations in Minnesota. They are listed below.
Dear Gov. Tim Walz and Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan:
In the Minnesota Court of Appeals, several organizations appealed permits for the proposed PolyMet copper-sulfide mine issued by state agencies under the prior administration. These appeals include a challenge to the National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit, which regulates wastewater discharge from the mine. During these proceedings, it has come to light that the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) pressured U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) officials to keep the EPA’s written comments which criticize PolyMet’s NPDES permit out of the administrative record and took additional steps to keep criticism of the PolyMet permit hidden from public view. The MPCA conduct may violate state and federal law.
In response, on June 25, the Minnesota Court of Appeals took the virtually unprecedented step of ordering an evidentiary hearing into the MPCA’s conduct because it found “substantial evidence of procedural irregularities.” The court has now transferred jurisdiction of the case to Ramsey County District Court to conduct these hearings into the MPCA permitting process.
As a result of this order by the Minnesota Court of Appeals, we the undersigned request that you act immediately to stay all state permits issued for the PolyMet project. It is in the interest of the state of Minnesota to let the district court proceedings go forward and uncover the truth regarding the allegations of improper, and possibly illegal, conduct by the MPCA.
There is too much at stake for Minnesota with the PolyMet permitting, the state’s first copper-sulfide mine. This project should not be allowed to move forward while there is the possibility that the water-quality permit, and perhaps other permits granted to PolyMet, were subject to a tainted approval process. Other pending investigations — by the Office of Inspector General of the EPA and the Minnesota Office of the Legislative Auditor — only reinforce the severity of these allegations and the need for a stay of the state PolyMet permits while these proceedings are pending.
Your administration has been vocal in calling for increased transparency, specifically regarding the environmental permitting process. By placing all of the state PolyMet permits on hold until these matters can be thoroughly investigated, your administration will demonstrate your dedication to transparency and help restore the public’s faith in Minnesota’s environmental regulatory process. Now is the time to assure the people of Minnesota that they have an advocate for truth and transparent governance in the governor’s residence.
We have reached a crossroads not just for the PolyMet copper-sulfide mine, but also for the future of Minnesota’s natural resources and the public’s faith in government. We urge you to do the right thing and stay all state PolyMet permits pending the completion of the aforementioned investigations.
Chris Knopf, executive director, Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness; Paula Maccabee, advocacy director and legal counsel, WaterLegacy; Margaret Levin, state director, Sierra Club North Star Chapter; Kathryn Hoffman, CEO, Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy; Marc Fink, public lands legal director, Center for Biological Diversity; Michelle Witte, executive director, League of Women Voters Minnesota; Ted Suss, president, Izaak Walton League-Minnesota Division; and Steve Morse, Minnesota Environmental Partnership.
Additional organizations signing this letter are: A.C.E.S. (Austin Coalition for Environmental Sustainability), Alliance for Sustainability, CURE (Clean Up the River Environment), Environmental Law and Policy Center, Eureka Recycling, Friends of the Cloquet Valley State Forest, Friends of Minnesota Scientific and Natural Areas, Lakeville Friends of the Environment, Land Stewardship Project, Mankato Area Environmentalists, MN350, Minnesota Interfaith Power and Light, Minnesota Native Plant Society, National Parks Conservation Association, Northeastern Minnesotans for Wilderness, Parks & Trails Council of Minnesota, Renewing the Countryside, Save Lake Superior Association, Save Our Sky Blue Waters, Voyageurs National Park Association, Wetlands Action Group, Wilderness in the City.