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‘Wiggle room,’ deleted emails, and a controversial phone call: What we learned after five days of testimony in the PolyMet hearing

John Linc Stine
MinnPost file photo by Walker Orenstein
John Linc Stine, commissioner of Minnesota's Pollution Control Agency, speaking to the press on Dec. 20, 2018, after his agency approved environmental permits for the PolyMet copper-nickel mine proposal in northern Minnesota. Jeff Udd is at left.
In March of 2018, staff at the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency were slammed. 

The regulators were answering a rush of comments on a draft water pollution permit for a copper-nickel mine owned by PolyMet Mining. And with only days left before the comment period ended, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency was planning to submit its own critiques of the controversial project.

So John Linc Stine, commissioner of the MPCA at the time, called the EPA with an unusual, and likely unprecedented, request: Would they delay commenting along with the public and save their concerns for later?

“The staff were really deluged by the response requirements of responding to hundreds of public comments,” Stine said.


Despite Stine’s explanation, that plea is now at the heart of a legal fight in district court over whether the MPCA was actually trying to bend rules to hide the EPA’s criticisms from the public. A coalition of environmental nonprofits and the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa sued the MPCA last year and have accused the state of breaking with regular procedure and deleting records to cover its tracks.

As Stine and other current and former MPCA and EPA officials were interrogated under oath over five days in Ramsey County District Court in the last week, a more complete picture of the episode has emerged, revealing divisions within the federal government, the state’s unconventional handling of the PolyMet permit and the MPCA’s justification for deleting noteworthy emails.

All involved seem to concede the permit process was far from normal. But once testimony concludes, Judge John H. Guthmann will have to decide: Was it improper?

A history of written comments

To start construction on its $1 billion mine, PolyMet needs a swath of permits issued by the state and federal government. All were granted after roughly 15 years of environmental review, though some have since been suspended or reversed by courts.

The permit under scrutiny in District Court — known as a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit (NPDES) — covers the release of polluted water into rivers, lakes, streams and wetlands. It was the final state permit granted to PolyMet when issued in December of 2018

While the MPCA handles and writes the permit, the EPA reviews it to ensure it doesn’t violate the federal Clean Water Act. The feds can make recommendations for changes and also can veto the final permit.

PolyMet submitted an initial application for the permit in 2016, and proposed an updated one in October of 2017. By January of 2018, a draft version of the permit was released for a 45-day public comment period and two open meetings in northeast Minnesota.

As the permit was being developed, staff for the MPCA and the EPA held regular meetings by phone. But the EPA was also preparing to submit formal written comments to critique the permit. One concern: The type of limits on pollutants like mercury and heavy metals set by the MPCA may not be federally enforceable.


Kevin Pierard, a career EPA official who managed the regional NPDES program for nine years, said it was “standard practice” for the agency to submit such written comments on draft versions of a permit. Of roughly 700 NPDES permits he handled before leaving the EPA and joining New Mexico’s Environment Department, Pierard estimated the feds submitted written comments on more than 500 of them.

Kevin Pierard, who oversaw a key water permit at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, is questioned via video.
Pool photo by Leila Navidi/Star Tribune
Kevin Pierard, a career EPA official who managed the regional NPDES program for nine years, said it was “standard practice” for the agency to submit written comments on draft versions of a permit.
Pierard said the EPA liked to comment early in permit development because it’s easier for a state to make changes at that point. Major revisions after a permit public comment period could trigger a second round of public comments, he said.

The EPA typically sent its comments in writing to avoid miscommunication and because states must respond to written comments made during the public notice period. But also so critiques can become part of official records. “If someone were to ask what was EPA’s role, what did EPA do, that’s in the record and you can see that,” Pierard said.

A request for ‘wiggle room’

Between Jan. 31 of 2018 — when PolyMet’s public comment period opened — and March 5, Pierard said the EPA told state regulators they intended to submit written comments. The public comment period ended March 16.

But in early March, Pierard said MPCA staff asked him “if there was any wiggle room” to delay the EPA’s comments. Pierard testified the request was odd. He could not recall ever getting a similar request on a draft NPDES permit.

Afterward, on March 12, Stine called Pierard’s boss, Cathy Stepp. At the time, Stepp was the EPA’s Region 5 director, and had been appointed roughly two months earlier after leading Wisconsin’s Department of Natural Resources under Republican Gov. Scott Walker.

Stine again asked if it was possible for EPA to wait until after the public notice period to offer comments. Stepp said she would take the request “under advisement,” Stine testified, and shortly after an MPCA assistant commissioner followed up. 

By Pierard’s account, the MPCA’s Shannon Lotthammer told the federal agency it was “inappropriate for EPA to comment with everyone else” and suggested a public comment in writing would violate a longstanding memorandum from the 1970s that governs how Minnesota and the EPA handle NPDES permits.


In a March 13 email, Lotthammer made the request for a delay in writing, telling Stepp’s chief of staff, Kurt Thiede, the state was concerned with the “timing of EPA comments, not the ability for EPA to comment.” (Lotthammer deleted the email before leaving the agency and joining the state Department of Natural Resources in 2019, but a copy was later leaked by a union representing EPA employees.)

At one point in the exchanges, Pierard said he and other EPA staff talked with Lotthammer by phone. Lotthammer told the EPA their comments would “confuse the public,” duplicate concerns by environmental groups and others, and “create a good deal of press,” Pierard testified. Under oath, Lotthammer denied that fear of news coverage motivated the MPCA, and said the state’s request was made because staff was strained by responding to other public comments.

A controversial phone call

Still, Pierard did not agree with the MPCA. He said press coverage should not dictate his actions, and made clear that he believes EPA comments are more important than critiques from environmental groups, even if they have similar critiques. 

But Pierard also testified that Thiede, Stepp’s chief of staff, was torn and trying to find “middle ground” between the MPCA and typical EPA protocol. At the time, Thiede had been at the EPA little more than a month. He had previously worked for Stepp at the Wisconsin DNR, but he replaced Stepp as EPA Region 5 director last week.

Shortly before PolyMet’s public comment period closed, Pierard had completed a formal letter of critiques, but he said EPA leadership decided not to send it.

During the hearing last week, Judge Guthmann mostly barred Pierard from testifying about the EPA’s decision since he considered it outside the focus of the hearings. But Paula Maccabee, an attorney for the environmental nonprofit WaterLegacy, argued the comment question was controversial inside the EPA — based on two-dozen emails on the matter between March 14 and 16 that have been redacted by the feds.

The MPCA agreed to prepare a revised draft of the PolyMet permit after it had incorporated changes made in response to public comments. The EPA would have an extra 45 days to review what it called a “pre-proposed permit,” a term made up by the federal agency for the PolyMet NPDES.

Nevertheless, Pierard called MPCA staff on April 12, 2018, to detail his unsent comment letter. 

The call has been a major source of controversy since.

Pool photo by Leila Navidi/Star Tribune
During the hearing last week, Judge Guthmann mostly barred Pierard from testifying about the EPA’s decision since he considered it outside the focus of the hearings.
Pierard said he read aloud most of the EPA’s comment letter verbatim, “to make sure that (the MPCA) understood exactly what we were saying and what our concerns were and how to rectify that.”

But environmental groups assert notes of the call or EPA’s letter were not put into the administrative record that details how the MPCA made its decision, effectively shielding EPA comments from the public. The administrative record is used during litigation over the permit in the Court of Appeals.

The only MPCA staffer to take notes during the call was attorney Michael Schmidt. Stephanie Handeland, who wrote the permit and compiled its administrative record, said she typically takes notes during such meetings. But she stopped writing two minutes in, tore the page out of her notebook and recycled it because she said Pierard was speaking too fast. Handeland also said the comments were similar to concerns the EPA had raised on earlier calls and she didn’t consider the conversation a “formal comment” by the feds.

As for Schmidt’s notes, Handeland said she didn’t ask for them because she believed they’d be protected by attorney-client privilege. Schmidt also destroyed his notes — after he incorporated them into other legal work the agency says is exempt from disclosure.

MPCA: process unusual, not nefarious

Since the allegations of improper conduct, the MPCA has consistently said it had no nefarious intent when it requested a delay in EPA comments.

While top officials acknowledged some of its actions were unusual, so was the permit, they have testified. PolyMet would be the first copper-nickel mine in Minnesota and has attracted attention, headlines and criticisms for more than a decade. The state rarely sees new mines of any kind, and the permits are complex and time consuming. “There’s not really anything to compare it to for prior projects,” said Jeff Udd, manager of the MPCA’s water and mining section.

MPCA staff said they reviewed comments as they came in, and expected to see a flood of them. Earlier calls with the EPA also led them to believe environmental groups and the Fond du Lac Band would submit comments that overlapped EPA concerns. 

So the best and most efficient course of action, agency leaders concluded, was for the EPA to scrutinize a revised draft of the NPDES permit after the state had incorporated the hundreds of comments it received.

Lotthammer, the former assistant commissioner, and Stine, the former commissioner, testified they never intended to say EPA commenting during the public notice period would violate the state’s memorandum with the feds governing NPDES permitting. And they said their request was within the bounds of those rules. “We weren’t trying to suggest not to get comments or be transparent in that,” Lotthammer said. “We were simply requesting that EPA consider allowing us to provide the updated work product before they weighed in with their formal comments.”

Lotthammer also defended her handling of records. While an attorney representing mine opponents, William Pentelovitch, said in court that her March 13 email was the state’s only documentation of the MPCA request for EPA to delay its comments, Lotthammer said she believed it did not qualify as a record she needed to keep under the state’s Data Practice Act and was not necessary to retain in case of litigation. She did not remember consulting anyone before deleting it.

William Pentelovitch
Pool photo by Leila Navidi/Star Tribune
An attorney representing mine opponents, William Pentelovitch, above, said in court that [the MPCA’s Shannon Lotthammer's] March 13 email was the state’s only documentation of the MPCA request for EPA to delay its comments; Lotthammer said she believed it did not qualify as a record she needed to keep under the state’s Data Practice Act and was not necessary to retain in case of litigation.
Lotthammer did keep a later email from the EPA summarizing their agreement, which she said represents the EPA’s final decision. (It does not, however, say MPCA first made the request for a delay in comments.)

Ultimately, the MPCA says it considered many of the federal concerns when revising its work, and the EPA did not issue written comments on the state’s PolyMet permit or object before it was issued in December 2018. And even Pierard indicated that while his concerns were serious, they were not necessarily big enough to warrant a veto of the permit.

What happens next

Several more witnesses are expected to testify this week at District Court before Judge Guthmann can make a decision in the case. The Court of Appeals asked him to determine whether there were “procedural irregularities,” before transferring the case back to the higher court.

It’s unclear if Guthmann will rule on every unresolved question in the case, but the outcome will influence the litigation in the appeals court over whether the NPDES permit itself is adequate.

One measure of the stakes might be the dozen or so lawyers packed into the wood-paneled courtroom each day between the MPCA, PolyMet, the EPA, environmental groups and the Fond du Lac Band. Guthmann joked it was a meeting of the Bar Association.

While Pierard has left the EPA and Guthmann noted his views may not represent the whole agency, Pierard’s testimony will still likely be the primary window into the EPA’s views on the NPDES permit. And he saw delaying EPA comments for a revised permit as a departure from normal procedure. “That just doesn’t make any sense that we would do that,” he told the court via livestream from Santa Fe, New Mexico. “It’s not our practice and it wouldn’t speed up the process which I think they were concerned about. It actually slows it down.”

Comments (50)

  1. Submitted by Bob Barnes on 01/28/2020 - 11:17 am.

    Since the permits meet all the guidelines of both state and federal regs, time to put an end to these delays and let the mining begin. Sounds like the MPCA was just swamped is all.

    • Submitted by Edward Blaise on 01/29/2020 - 09:55 am.

      Read a little closer: it seems that the main point of contention is if all these permit conditions have been met.

      Before the state goes on the hook for billions in long term costs, a little caution may be in order.

      Seems the “conservative” thing to do…

      • Submitted by Bob Barnes on 01/29/2020 - 02:17 pm.

        Actually the EPA has no real issue with the permits as they were granted. Even says so in the story. Only issue here is one unusual request which seems to have been due to the increased amount of public comments on such a contentious project.

        Let the mining begin and all those jobs and revenue flow in.

    • Submitted by Bernadine Martin on 01/29/2020 - 09:27 pm.

      All you have to do is Google Glencore and corruption and you’ll see pages of articles. Then Google Glencore losing money – pictures of Glencore mines and what it does to the environment. Google Glencore woes. They are a mean spirited corrupt greedy ant- environment conglomerate who owns the soul of Polymet. Northern Mn would never be the same again.

    • Submitted by Dave Paulson on 01/29/2020 - 09:45 pm.

      No it does not “meet all the guidelines” which is not a term of art relevant here anyway. EPA had 26 complaints about deficiencies, and these experts know how the mining world works.
      At most 13 of those were actually satisfied by the MPCA subsequent changes.
      AND the 26 formal suggestions became hidden from the public record – forever – based on this two-step they managed.
      AND the most serious is that they wrote the permit so violations could occur but not be assured they had to be fixed – a subtle but crucial difference in terms of fixing a poisoning of the local waters..

  2. Submitted by joe smith on 01/28/2020 - 11:19 am.

    Welcome to Big Government Programs. So glad we are wasting tax dollars to have Government agencies fight over permitting. Follow the law, follow the set standards (no more moving the goal posts) and if Polymet passes give the the permits.

    • Submitted by William Hunter Duncan on 01/28/2020 - 01:06 pm.

      Welcome to international conglomerate capture of local government, where a shell company called Polymet can mine for twenty years, declare bankruptcy and be absolved of responsibility for up to 500 years of sulphuric acid and heavy metals in Minnesota’s waters, with most of the money generated from the mine flowing to Swiss conglomerate Glencore and it’s international shareholders, who will be equally absolved of long term responsibility for pollution.

      • Submitted by Edward Blaise on 01/29/2020 - 09:50 am.

        Always happy to find agreement with William.

        What our conservative friends here fail to acknowledge is that this is the greatest, single event of corporate welfare in our state’s history.

        Putting MN taxpayers at risk for potential billions in recovery costs.

        The dirty little secret here is that this project is only viable if the state has the ultimate responsibility for long term consequences.

        It is pretty easy to fix this through actual, binding, escape proof insurance scenarios; but it also make the project non viable…

        • Submitted by William Hunter Duncan on 01/29/2020 - 10:16 am.

          Yes Edward, in fact, under current economic arrangements, if every corporation were charged for the pollution they emit, profits would evaporate and they would all go bankrupt. The great captains of industry ever preening their egos, make their riches from the collected labor of many today, and the pain and misery of the future.

          • Submitted by Edward Blaise on 01/29/2020 - 11:49 am.

            Well, I do think having all those nice 3M facilities creating jobs for thousands in this state is to be encouraged.

            And they undeniably have pollution issues due to ignorance, sometimes even willful ignorance.

            At least they are subject to laws that hold them accountable and they have been held accountable.

            Glencore/Polymet is trying to build an escape hatch and should not be allowed to.

          • Submitted by Dave Paulson on 01/29/2020 - 09:52 pm.

            I think it much more likely that the incremental cost of pollution abatement (at the source where it is cheapest to do) can easily be incorporated into the cost of the products. Easily if all have to do it.

            Then no one goes broke and the public pays the true cost, and within a generation the taxpayer is no longer subsidizing the products with more expensive clean up (in the dispersed air and water) to protect their health, and the market shows the buyers the true cost.

            Actually quite simple.

            And it has already worked – somewhat – on DDT and acid rain – the scrubbers on coal-fired power plants DID NOT bankrupt either the electrical utilities or the nation.

          • Submitted by William Hunter Duncan on 01/30/2020 - 08:48 am.

            Edward,

            Methinks PFAS represents deliberate, ongoing, criminal ignorance, not just on the part of 3M – the increasingly dire cost of that class of forever chemicals these corporations are building escape hatches for, as we speak.

            Dave,

            Yes, it can work. We know what could be done. Yet somehow the waters grow more polluted with every passing decade, for many decades. Because the rule is, private profits, public costs. And as far as I can tell the majority of both parties are in the corporate pocket. And of all the people running for president, I would expect all but one of them to maintain the status quo. That status quo is revealed in the behavior of the MPCA in this case.

  3. Submitted by Malcolm Parker on 01/28/2020 - 11:45 am.

    I am left wondering if PolyMet is required to secure bonding / insurance to finance cleanup if there is a spill, and who might oversee such an event.
    Redundancy might be useful here, so that a dam failure would have a second catch basin.

    • Submitted by Bob Barnes on 01/29/2020 - 02:31 pm.

      330ish million last reported. That’s a hefty bond and may actually be more than that by the time the mine actually opens.

    • Submitted by Dave Paulson on 01/29/2020 - 09:54 pm.

      Good luck getting Glencore to step up and put up more of its capital. Just read up on their track record.

      Time to stop calling them Polymet – they are Glencore.

      • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 01/31/2020 - 06:39 pm.

        Yes. Polymet is the chell corporation that will funnel profits to Glencore, until the operation is done & then Ploymet will cease to exist.

  4. Submitted by Alan Muller on 01/28/2020 - 12:02 pm.

    I’ve been involved in squabbles over NPDES permits. Too many.

    No question that the behavior of the MPCA was indeed “nefarious.” But one should keep in mind that Region 5 was under the control of trumpers–the Regional Administrator and top staffers are political appointees–, just as the PCA was under the control of Dayton and Stine. This puts conscientious professionals in difficult if not impossible positions.

    It’s time for Walz to step up, recognize that the agency work on these permits is irreparably compromised, and start over. Hopefully the courts will order this.

    • Submitted by Dave Paulson on 01/29/2020 - 09:56 pm.

      Agreed.

      Glencore can still get their permits, and they might be done right but certainly will be done better.

      AND

      Neither Glencore nor future employees own the water up there any more than anyone reading this.

  5. Submitted by Thomas Weyandt on 01/28/2020 - 12:03 pm.

    I have a practical question.

    Assume that all the permits have been issued and all of the requirements have been met:

    Is the project economically viable? Is the price of copper high enough for this project to ‘work’? What would the price have to be? Has the project been economically viable at any time since it was first requested 15 years ago?

    Seems to me that a lot of the consternation revolves around the issue of jobs. If the above questions are answered the issue of jobs is impacted either positively or negatively.

    • Submitted by Bob Barnes on 01/28/2020 - 01:06 pm.

      If it wasn’t, Polymet would have shut it all down and moved on to something else. Chile produces copper at about 1.65 a pound so they are making a decent profit.

      • Submitted by Edward Blaise on 01/29/2020 - 09:36 am.

        Have you noticed that Chile mines copper nickel in a desert?

        A little different from within a shared watershed with the most pristine wilderness waterway in the US.

      • Submitted by Dave Paulson on 01/29/2020 - 10:02 pm.

        Its a much more nuanced decision than that.

        If Glencore needs to pay the true cost of pollution – something they have no history of – they might not project a profit and build
        AND
        the commodities metals market, and mining business in general is way more complicated than a spreadsheet profit projection would lead you to believe.
        AND
        the business drivers on the ground will have collected their bonuses and be out of sight long before the actual profit/loss judgement comes in on this mine.

  6. Submitted by Mark Voorhees on 01/28/2020 - 12:11 pm.

    I don’t believe there is any bonding or insurance required.

    • Submitted by Sarah Nagle on 01/28/2020 - 07:45 pm.

      And that’s a crime.

    • Submitted by Bob Barnes on 01/29/2020 - 02:27 pm.

      There is. 330 million at least will be put up by Polymet. They have to abide by Federal and State regulations which are very strict and will greatly reduce any chance of pollution. Not to mention they will also be cleaning up an old taconite mine in the process too.

    • Submitted by Dave Paulson on 01/29/2020 - 10:04 pm.

      Well, lots of promises, little evidence of deliverables – or if so Glencore, the MPCA and the press are strangely quiet about them.

  7. Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 01/28/2020 - 12:26 pm.

    Follow the law? That is a great comment, it reads from the article, folks really aren’t sure they are or are not and that is why they are in court, to determine if they did or are following the law. Not my version or your version but the law. Also seems like some folks just really don’t get it, this process fails and the entire area could be polluted for 100’s of years to come. What a great gift to pass on to our children, and our children’s children’s children. All for pennies and nickles!
    https://www.google.com/search?client=firefox-b-1-d&q=mining+pollution+in+america+

    • Submitted by Bob Barnes on 01/28/2020 - 01:09 pm.

      Several billion in profits isn’t pennies and nickels. The local area stands to make hundreds of millions (or more) in revenue from taxes, wages etc. A lot of people will have really good paying jobs for a very long time once the mine gets going. All fear mongering about pollution is just a canard to rail against big business.

      • Submitted by Ralph Wittcoff on 01/28/2020 - 02:03 pm.

        A 900 acre lake of sulfuric acid sludge behind an earthen dam for 500 years just up the hill from Lake Superior. What could go wrong?

      • Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 01/28/2020 - 02:05 pm.

        And if the environment is poisoned? Did you check the link? You talk as though there is no risk, you must be OK with your kids and grand kids living in a polluted environment? It is not all gain, no pain, no risk, and last I checked that area that could get polluted belongs to the citizens of Minnesota (not just the locals) don’t we get a say in what happens to, our property?

      • Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 01/28/2020 - 02:24 pm.

        PS:
        “All fear mongering about pollution is just a canard to rail against big business.”
        Suppose things like 3 Mi Island, Fukushima, Deep Water Horizon, Love Canal, Flint Michigan, Bhopal, Agent Orange, etc. etc. etc. are all fake news “canards” just to smear big business of one sort or another.

      • Submitted by Dave Paulson on 01/29/2020 - 10:17 pm.

        Several billion in profits??? Where did you read that?

        And who gets the profits?- salaries are not profits.

        We need to see a comparison of the NET economic activity (not just the income sheet of Glencore) and compare that to the potential cost of the pollution – which can be projected based on the 15-20 studies of costs that other sulfide and related mines have cost – a range is achievable! The Gilt Edge mine in the Black hills cost (2016 projection) $89 million in SD taxpayer money. And that does not cost the actual damage – just the clean up effort which is very far from reversing all effects.

  8. Submitted by Eric House on 01/28/2020 - 01:26 pm.

    I have been thinking about this scenario with comparison to similar issues with DHS and the shortcuts that were taken by that department over the past several years. It probably isn’t reasonable to expect every form to be filled out in full every time- the intent of the law should take precedence over the form. I can accept that my feeling about what is a ‘major’ breach will different from other people

    But then that’s why we have judical review- to make that determination. It seems to me that the sum total of the process breaches by the MPCA do rise to the level of a major breach- especially because every one of them seems to be to the effect of putting the thumb on the scale in favor of the mine.

    I am especially troubled by the repeated assertions by MPCA staff and attorneys (notably not being represented by the AG office) that failure to take meeting notes, asking for a pass on the written comments because of possible press coverage, and deleting e-mails somehow constitutes normal business practices.

  9. Submitted by Eric Snyder on 01/28/2020 - 02:05 pm.

    “While top officials acknowledged some of its actions were unusual, so was the permit, they have testified.”

    What’s the relevance? An unusual procedure, if this is what it is, should require even *more* documentation. This is the kind of statement you make if you have no rational reason for what you’ve done outside of attempting to undermine the permitting process in favor of the mine.

    An aside – one question I have is whether anyone has looked at Lotthammer’s financial situation.

    “And they said their request was within the bounds of those rules.”

    This comment assumes the public is as clueless as the person(s) making it. Logically, something might be within the rules but outside of any number of other considerations like transparency and accountability, good governance practices and public trust. The fact that this comment was even made casts a shadow of suspicion over the ones making it because it strongly suggests that they have no substantive basis for doing what they did other than to undermine the process.

    “Lotthammer said she believed it did not qualify as a record she needed to keep under the state’s Data Practice Act and was not necessary to retain in case of litigation.”

    How could anyone not born yesterday believe this?

    • Submitted by Eric House on 01/29/2020 - 10:10 am.

      The arrogance of the MPCA officials has been breathtaking. failure to document, dismissive of public concern, avoiding rules and regulatoins they didn’t like, obvious bias towards Polymet…

      I am highly skeptical that the mine would be ecologically sound- or that it would be cost effective if Polymet were to actually pay for the necessary protections. However, I would have been willing to accept the permitting process, if it had been done by the book. At this point, short of starting over with a new group of regulatory personnel- I do not see a way forward where the permit could be construed as legitimate.

  10. Submitted by Joe Musich on 01/28/2020 - 07:30 pm.

    In my opinion to answer your somewhat rhetorical question in the title, we have learned that some abnormal activities have been engaged in by parts government that have compromised their credibility. Getting a permit is not suppose to be easy. To create circumstances for permitting to be less then transparent is opening a backdoor even wider for even more corruption to take place. If mining companies had been a friend of NE Minnesota how is the incredible loss of population and therefore city tax base explained ? Mining like Rodan comes and goes as it pleases. But giving Rodan help is makes one either a victim of Stockholm Syndrome or complicit. There are no choices in between. And as a reminder since it seems to be almost forgotten with every Polymet article recycling rare minerals is incredibly possible.

  11. Submitted by Sarah Nagle on 01/28/2020 - 07:47 pm.

    We’ve become an extraction economy.

  12. Submitted by Elanne Palcich on 01/28/2020 - 07:59 pm.

    The permit had to be issued in a hurry because Gov. Dayton was leaving office and Gov. Walz was just coming in–and the purpose was to avoid major controversy for the new administration. Dayton had already given the go-ahead to permit PolyMet (Oct. 27, 2017, Dayton has moved from being genuinely undecided on PolyMet to being a genuine support)–and the commissioners were his appointees–so they simply side-stepped critical information regarding pollutants and gave Dayton what he wanted. The permit was issued on Dec. 20, 2018–right between the two administrations. It looks like controversy hasn’t entirely been avoided though.

  13. Submitted by Frank Phelan on 01/28/2020 - 08:30 pm.

    Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive.

  14. Submitted by Pat Terry on 01/28/2020 - 10:01 pm.

    Guthmann is a very good judge.

  15. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 01/29/2020 - 08:55 am.

    I think it all comes down to what you mean by: “hide”?

    Listen: Don’t buy the: “we were swamped” excuse. These guys had ten years to get their ducks in a row before this public comments period, and they were not dealing with novel never-heard that one before comments and observations. If they really had as they claim, addressed all of these concerns, why did they want to keep those concerns off our of the public record? If the EPA concerns were the same as everyone else’s you just say that and point to your solutions. If you’ve done your job the public comment period can be a pain, but you’re not worried about press scrutiny or questions because you’re prepared for that.

    Given the sensitivity and high profile of these particular permits why in the world would the DNR depart from standard procedures? If ever there was a scenario that demanded protocol this was it. And in fact had the DNR followed their own protocol and not made so many data practice mistakes and special requests, they wouldn’t be in court right now trying to defend their permit.

    I remind everyone that the DNR didn’t have a deadline they had to meet, to issue this permit. If they were in fact “swamped” by the time they got to the public comment period that can only be because after a decade of work they still weren’t prepared, but were determined to press ahead anyways. Why? Who does the DNR work for?

    Of course issuing a permit under these circumstances raises concerns about the quality of the permit… you were so swamped that you couldn’t handle the EPA objections and public comments but not so swamped that you couldn’t issue the permit?

    If you can’t trust the process you can’t trust the permit and we have far too many reasons at this point to distrust the process.

  16. Submitted by Don Arnosti on 01/29/2020 - 02:45 pm.

    Corporations control our government regulators. The public demanded new regulations (Clean Water Act) and regulatory agencies (MPCA) 50 years ago to protect our public interest in clean water and clean air.

    We’ve been sold out! The MPCA has lost it’s mission to serve the public.

  17. Submitted by Bernadine Martin on 01/29/2020 - 09:45 pm.

    Glencore also has workplace fatality rates significantly above the industry average in three of the last five years, according to the International Council on Metals and Mining, an industry group.

    In their “Shadow Report” on Glencore on 2017, a coalition of nongovernmental groups in Latin America excoriated the company for damaging business practices and a legacy of pollution and overuse of water in Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia and Peru, charging that it diverted streams and rivers and sometimes left local communities dry. The company has been the subject of scores of investigations, sanctions and fines, according to the report. In Colombia, for example, entire towns have had to be resettled because of toxic air emissions from its coal operations.

    “It’s a notorious company,” said Andy Whitmore, co-chairman of the industry watchdog London Mining Network. “They’re the one with the poorest records, and the one that seems to have changed the least.”

  18. Submitted by Peder Otterson on 02/03/2020 - 03:11 pm.

    Just thinking. Anyone hear about Reserve Mining Company and its permits to process taconite at Silver Bay on the shore of Lake Superior? Old timers will remember how the entire lake from Silver Bay to Duluth became turquoise in color because of the fine, suspended solids in the tailings that were daily dumped into Lake Superior. All according to permit. But it didn’t stop there. Even after it was determined that asbestiform fibers that could cause cancer were included in the tailings as well as in Duluth’s drinking water which it got from the lake, it took years of court battles before the process was finally stopped. Have we learned nothing in the interim?

  19. Submitted by richard owens on 02/04/2020 - 04:21 pm.

    If it is possible to do hard rock mining in a wet environment without unleashing battery acid upon the pristine waters of Minnesota’s northland, let the demonstration begin.

    Clean up the Dunka Pit south of Babbit. Cover and seal the overburden and show us how you can fix the poisoned groundwater from sulfuric acid leaching from the abandoned mine.

    One commenter gave us a link to the Superfund sites that follow mining companies across our country, extraction complete, leaving ghost towns and spoil– nothing else of value. They will leave the bill for taxpayers.

    What Polymet will leave is poisoned groundwater and streams that will no longer support spawning fish or micro organisms that are the base of the food chain for fish and aquatic plants.

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