US Army Corps revokes permit for Minnesota mine, cites threat to downstream tribe’s water standards – DNyuz

US Army Corps revokes permit for Minnesota mine, cites threat to downstream tribe’s water standards

MINNEAPOLIS — The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said Tuesday it has revoked a crucial federal permit for the proposed NewRange Copper Nickel mine in northeastern Minnesota, a project popularly known as PolyMet, saying the permit did not comply with the water quality standards set by a sovereign downstream tribe.

The Corps said in a statement that it revoked the Clean Water Act permit, which it had previously suspended, “because the permit does not ensure compliance with water quality requirements of the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa.” The tribe’s reservation, on the St. Louis River, is downstream from the mine and processing plant site near Babbitt and Hoyt Lakes.

“This is a huge victory,” said Paula Maccabee, an attorney for WaterLegacy, one of the environmental groups that have been fighting the proposed mine in court and in the regulatory process for several years. “It’s a victory for tribal sovereignty, it’s a victory for science, it’s a victory for the law. Although PolyMet has suffered other setbacks, this is by far the most consequential victory for human health, water quality and tribal sovereignty.”

The Corps said NewRange Copper Nickel is free to submit a new permit application with modifications to the project to make it comply with the tribe’s water quality requirements. Maccabee, however, said that the Corps’ memo of decision makes it very clear that the company would have a difficult time addressing all issues raised by both the tribe and Environmental Protection Agency.

NewRange said it’s considering its options as it digests the decision and decides on its response. Other key permits are also still hampered by legal issues.

“The Corps decision requires a careful review, deliberate action and continued engagement with all stakeholders, the company stated in a press release.

PolyMet Mining and Teck Resources finalized a 50-50 joint venture in February that renamed the project NewRange Copper Nickel. The two companies hope to finish the copper and nickel mine PolyMet has been working on for years. They also plan to build another mine in a larger ore deposit that Teck, based out of Canada, controls. PolyMet Mining’s largest shareholder is Swiss-based minerals and mining giant Glencore.

The Corps initially awarded PolyMet the Clean Water Act permit in 2019. The Corps said that the project was compliant with federal regulations and laws at the time.

But it suspended the permit in 2021 at the request of the Environmental Protection Agency so that the EPA, in response to a court ruling, could study the effects downstream on both the Band’s reservation and the Wisconsin waters of the St. Louis River, which forms a part of the Minnesota-Wisconsin border. The Corps then held a public hearing in May of 2022 on whether the permit should be reissued, revoked or modified.

Tribal officials told federal officials then that the mine would violate its water quality regulations, which are stricter than the state’s, particularly for mercury and some other pollutants. Tribal officials said that their higher standards were needed to protect fish and wildrice, which are an important part of the tribe’s diet and culture. The EPA agreed, and recommended that the Corps not reinstate the permit.

In its announcement on Tuesday, the Corps stated that it had to revoke a suspended permit due to the lack of conditions contained in the permit. “This is because the permit did not contain enough requirements for the Band’s downstream water quality standards,” according the Clean Water Act.

“This is a milestone determination and further proof that under law and science, this kind of mining does not belong in an area where there’s so much water,” said Chris Knopf, executive director of Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness.

NewRange reiterated that it believes the mine can produce copper, nickel and platinum-group metals needed for the clean energy economy in a responsible and sustainable manner, while creating jobs for northeastern Minnesota. According to the company, its water management and treatment processes would lead to a net reduction of mercury and sulfate levels in St. Louis River.

Republican U.S. Rep. Peter Stauber, who represents the area, slammed the decision, saying it will make the U.S. more reliant on China for critical metals.

“The Biden Administration continues their assault on northern Minnesota and our way of life,” Stauber said in a statement. “We are on the cusp of delivering for the world and our country an ethically and responsibly sourced supply of these greatly needed critical minerals for our everyday life.”

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