DNR's Steve Colvin | Glen Stubbe photograph
by Steve Timmer
Apr 27, 2022, 9:30 AM

Corps of Engineers: tear up this permit

The Army Corps of Engineers, after the usual amount of required prompting by a federal court, will be deciding soon whether to revoke a “404 permit” to PolyMet that would allow PolyMet to undertake the largest destruction of wetlands in the history of Minnesota, stirring up untold amounts of heavy metals, including mercury, into the St. Louis River.

(The 404 permit is a federal one, and the graphic is of a member of the state’s DNR, but the actions by regulators, both state and federal, are all of a piece.)

Rather than provide more description of the permit and the Fond du Lac band’s opposition to it, please go to Water Legacy’s website to read more. If what you read there — or here — moves you to provide a comment to the Corps, the website gives you an easy way to do that. There is also information at the link about a call in opportunity in early May to express your views to the Corps. The written comments deadline is June 6th.

Here’s the comment I wrote.

– o O o –

To the Army Corps of Engineers:

I believe the wetlands destruction permit issued to PolyMet Mining must be revoked by the Corps of Engineers, and not be reissued, for both reasons of law and of conscience.

My name is Steve Timmer; I am a retired Minnesota lawyer living in Edina. I have followed the PolyMet Mining project for over a decade. For most of that time, it seemed that the concerns of the Fond du Lac and other Lake Superior bands, and of other environmentalists, too, were just being steamrolled administratively, on both a state and federal level.

It turns out, they were. Every time – every single time – that the Lake Superior Chippewa and the environmental nonprofits got a chance to make a record in court on some aspect of the legality or safety of the PolyMet Mining project, they won. PolyMet, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, and the Corps have poured untold millions of dollars into lawyers’ fees to defend sloppy, inept, and sometimes plainly corrupt regulatory decision making.

That’s the other record that has been made, and it’s a shameful misuse of the public purse, except for PolyMet itself, of course, which is litigating on the Swiss dime, or rather franc. The Corps’ 404 permit issued to PolyMet Mining is just the latest in the string of lamentable episodes that have been revealed. But to anyone who has followed L’affaire PolyMet, it isn’t surprising.

I have had the occasion to read environmental worksheets, interim EIS documents, and lots of comments to them, made by the Lake Superior Chippewa, the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission, the environmental nonprofits, and well, me, in the permitting process. It’s hard to see where any of us made a genuine dent in the administrative steamroller. We all talked or wrote until we were blue in the face.

When the permits turned to the courts, it was a different matter, of course.

Which brings us to the 404 permit and the Corps’ belated recognition of the Fond du Lac band’s existence and its rights as a downstream state. The Fond du Lac have water quality standards that were examined and approved by the Environmental Protection Agency. Those standards are entitled to the same protection and deference as those of Iowa or Wisconsin. More, I’d say, because the Fond du Lac band is a sovereign nation; Iowa and Wisconsin are not.

I know that’s hard to accept, but it’s true. I have no doubt that the Corps is trying to figure out ways not to accept it. I will leave the legal argument to the Fond du Lac’s lawyers; they are an impressive bunch and will do a better job than I could.

But let me appeal to the better angels of your nature, and for the Fond du Lac band, and all of the Lake Superior Chippewa, for the downstream community of Duluth, and for Anishinaabewi-gichigami itself: revoke this permit.


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