In a time of uncertainty and rapid change, the work of MCEA has not stopped. If anything, the stakes have never been greater.
MCEA's watchdog role is essential at a time when polluting industries are asking for bailouts and outright suspension of environmental laws. Minnesota courts have continued to be busy, and two of MCEA's recent landmark wins are now heading to the Supreme Court. Our staff continues to work hard remotely, while doing our part to limit the spread of COVID-19.
We appreciate all of you. Your support has allowed MCEA to be ready for this moment. We're proud to serve our state and community to defend the clean air and water that we all need, now more than ever.
In this issue of the Environmental Monitor:
Yet another PolyMet permit rejected by the Minnesota Court of Appeals
Two MCEA wins now headed to the Minnesota Supreme Court
People vs. PolyMet webinar breaks down the latest developments
Federal government rolls back environmental rule enforcement and car emission standards; MCEA holds the line in MN
COVID-19 action at the Minnesota Legislature
MCEA adds new Senior Attorney - welcome Joy!
Another MCEA win: fourth PolyMet permit struck down
On March 23rd, the Minnesota Court of Appeals struck down the PolyMet air pollution permit.
The Court of Appeals has now rejected or remanded every PolyMet permit that it has reviewed.
In court, MCEA presented evidence that PolyMet was telling the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) one thing, and shareholders another. By claiming to be a "minor source" of air pollution, PolyMet evaded a more stringent MPCA process that would have required the use of best available technologies to limit air pollution. PolyMet received this weaker "minor source" air pollution permit from MPCA because PolyMet claimed that it would limit the size of its proposed mine and processing plant. However, MCEA provided evidence to the MPCA that PolyMet was telling its investors about plans to expand into a much faster, larger, and even more polluting project. The US Environmental Protection Agency calls this bait and switch attempt to avoid stronger protections against air pollution "sham permitting."
Despite MCEA raising this issue repeatedly before it issued the air pollution permit, MPCA did not address it. The Court of Appeals found that MPCA failed to explain why it ignored the evidence we presented. The Court remanded (returned) the permit back to MPCA to look into whether this is a "sham permit," and to look at the evidence concerning PolyMet's true intentions.
This win is further evidence that the process that granted the PolyMet permits is broken. At this time more than ever, our agencies need to preserve Minnesota's clean air with permits that protect human health and the environment.
Two MCEA cases head to Minnesota's highest court
In the span of just eight days, the Minnesota Supreme Court announced it will review two historic wins MCEA secured in the Minnesota Court of Appeals.
On March 17th, the Minnesota Supreme Court announced it will review a Court of Appeals decision that struck down a gas power plant proposed by Minnesota Power in the Twin Ports.
Then on March 25th, the Minnesota Supreme Court announced it will review the Court of Appeals decision from January that struck down three permits issued to PolyMet by the Department of Natural Resources.
The Supreme Court taking these cases is a big deal. It takes an experienced team to see high profile cases like this all the way through. MCEA now has the opportunity to solidify the precedents from these landmark wins in the state's highest court.
We are ready. Thanks to the support from our donors, our team is stronger than ever (see the bottom of this newsletter for the latest addition to our legal team). We are dedicated to defending the Minnesota you love.
All of this news has come during a time of upheaval that has limited news coverage of these important developments. That's why MCEA's Chief Legal Officer, Kevin Reuther, and Senior Staff Attorney, Evan Mulholland, held a 30-minute webinar on Friday to give donors an exclusive update on recent developments in our legal battles against PolyMet. Did you miss it?
We make these webinars available on our YouTube channel and our People vs. PolyMet website if you'd like to share them with others. We really enjoyed connecting with our supporters last week and we look forward to holding more webinars in the near future!
Federal government curbs enforcement of environmental rules and standards
As you may have heard, the federal government has curtailed enforcement for polluters under the guise of our current global health crisis. We join partner groups around the country with this clear message: It is unacceptable to allow industry a free pass to pollute our air and water at a time when public health is so critical. COVID-19 is creating many new realities in American life, but the EPA pulling back from its enforcement authority will create even more harm.
Federal environmental laws are enforced here in Minnesota by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, which has taken much more limited steps to increase "flexibility" in enforcement. MCEA is keeping an eye on this, and will demand that our agencies protect public health.
In addition to curtailing EPA's enforcement, the Trump administration finalized new standards for cars & light trucks this week that will greatly increase pollution. Low-income communities and communities of color — already overburdened with air pollution — will bear the brunt of these rollbacks. Air pollution provokes asthma and exacerbates other pre-existing conditions. In the midst of a global outbreak of respiratory illness that lands most heavily on those with already weakened respiratory systems, we have to fight these federal rollbacks of laws that protect public health. In Minnesota, we are in a position to reduce the impact on human health by adopting our own Clean Car Standards, and MCEA is part of the coalition pushing for them. As MCEA's Carolyn Berninger said, "we look forward to continuing to support this rule to ensure the federal rollbacks do not hurt Minnesotans."
MCEA update on the Minnesota Legislature
This week, our update from the legislature is brief, as legislators are working in a limited capacity during the current shelter-in-place order. The legislature has suspended committee meetings, and members are working remotely on emergency legislation.
Last Thursday, the House and Senate met in session to debate and vote on a bill that provides emergency assistance to several high need areas, including:
Driver’s license facilities
Child care facilities
Licensing for essential healthcare workers and facilities
The bill also addresses deadlines and expiration dates during the pandemic, and provides special allowances for the following:
Extends the expiration date of driver’s licenses and ID’s until the peacetime emergency has concluded
Extends the state tax filing deadline until July 15th, to align with the new federal tax deadline
Extension of property tax defense or objection until May 30th.
Signs into law the Governor’s executive order regarding the extensions and temporary changes on Unemployment Insurance
MCEA's legal power grows — welcome Joy!
In February, MCEA expanded our power in the courtroom by hiring a new Senior Staff Attorney, Joy Anderson. Before joining MCEA, Joy was a shareholder at Gray Plant Mooty, where she worked as a litigator on commercial and environmental cases and headed the firm's pro bono program. While at the firm, Joy provided more than 100 hours of pro bono service each year through organizations including Volunteer Lawyers Network (where she serves on the board of directors) and the Advocates for Human Rights.
She has been named a Rising Star by Super Lawyers, a North Star Lawyer by the Minnesota State Bar Association, and a 2018 Minnesota Attorney of the Year by Minnesota Lawyer magazine. Joy earned her law degree, summa cum laude, at William Mitchell College of Law, and her B.A. in English and print journalism from the University of St. Thomas. Joy is excited to get started: "Climate change terrifies me. I have two kids who are 2 and 6 — I really do worry about what the world will look like when they grow up. What excites me about being part of MCEA is that we have the ability to take actions that make strategic and structural differences. Minnesota has really useful and powerful environmental laws on the books, and, with our legal expertise, MCEA can tap into those laws to protect Minnesotans. Lawsuits can be a really effective way to get agencies and industries to make better choices. I am truly excited to be part of a team leading that work."