Our Unique Role at the Legislature

MCEA fills a unique role because of all of our work with regulatory agencies and in the courts. Our legislative work strives to ensure there are no loopholes and maximum benefit in the creation of public policy. And our team of lawyers and experts work to ensure good policy intentions are translated into real outcomes and to demand that enforcement occurs. At every step, we are guided by experts and science. As the only environmental organization in Minnesota engaged in this breadth of work, we bring a needed and unique set of tools to protect our air and water. With seven lawsuits pending on the proposed PolyMet Mine, for example, we see the glaring gaps in our current mining laws. And our litigation to protect our ground and surface water make us uniquely positioned to know additional steps we can take at the legislature to protect our drinking water.

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Catalpa withdraws mega-feedlot proposal in karst country

Local residents at MPCA headquarters

Photo credit: MPR News

After huge public outcry and extensive legal and scientific work by MCEA, the Catalpa hog feedlot proposal is dead. This is a huge victory for our water and climate. Catalpa had proposed a 5,000 hog feedlot on a site in the middle of karst country in Fillmore County. Karst country is pocked with sinkholes and caves, and the groundwater is very vulnerable to contamination on the surface. Our clients, Responsible Agriculture for Karst Country and Land Stewardship Project, did an incredible job of organizing the community to respond to this threat. MCEA's legal work played a critical role in convincing the MPCA to deny a general permit for the proposal. This week, a second permit application was withdrawn, "marking the end of the road for the proposed Catalpa Ag hog farm."

This battle for drinking water isn't over, though. Across southeastern Minnesota's karst region, there is widespread contamination of drinking water. The MPCA has recommended a region-wide study of the issue. Gov. Tim Walz's budget released this week includes $2 million for this study of pollution, but the Legislature needs to act to make that happen. Learn more about the Catalpa case, why karst areas are vulnerable to pollution, and how you can help by watching our video describing the case.

MCEA legal team goes to court to protect MN from PolyMet's pollution

On December 3, 2018, MCEA petitioned the Court of Appeals to review DNR's decision to deny our request for a contested case hearing and to issue PolyMet a permit to mine and a dam safety permit for its proposed copper-nickel mine near Hoyt Lakes.  Joining MCEA in these appeals are Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness, Duluth for Clean Water, Save Lake Superior Association, Center for Biological Diversity, Friends of the Cloquet Valley State Forest, and Save Our Sky Blue Waters.  MCEA and its allies also asked the Court of Appeals to throw out the rules that DNR relied on in issuing the permit to mine, on the ground that the rules are so vague that they allow DNR to do whatever it wants. 

In the appeals, we argue that DNR's permits will not protect the public.  The DNR allowed PolyMet to proceed with its mine despite not knowing how the reactive mine waste generated will be prevented from causing pollution when the mine closes.  We also argue that DNR failed to require PolyMet to use feasible alternatives to manage its mine waste. They did not require PolyMet to avoid the hazards associated with an "upstream" earthen dam - supposed to hold back a 900 acre lake of contaminated water and tailings forever.  It will be several months before these cases are ready for the court to hear arguments and issue its decision. In the meanwhile, MCEA has requested that state agencies stay the permits (so PolyMet can't begin mining).  If they refuse this request, MCEA can appeal that decision to the Court of Appeals as well.

Brazil mine waste dam disaster hits close to home

Unfortunately, another catastrophic mining accident struck on January 25th, when a mining waste dam failed in Brazil. Over 150 people were killed downstream. This failed dam used the same engineering approach and obsolete construction method (upstream design) as the design DNR approved for PolyMet. (Let that soak in for a minute!) This week, the government of Brazil banned all upstream mine tailings dams and required that all existing upstream dams be decommissioned by 2021. Here in Minnesota, the PolyMet dam permit literally says that the permit is perpetual - forever. Our team is currently working hard to save our communities and the St. Louis River watershed from the same fate. We are currently:

  • Advocating at the legislature to create strong standards that specifically apply to mine waste dams. (Minnesota currently lacks standards specific to these kinds of risky waste dams)
  • Litigating in the Minnesota Court of Appeals to revoke the PolyMet Permit to Mine and the Dam Safety Permit that was issued by the DNR
  • Challenging the copper-nickel mining rules in court because they don't provide clear rules to protect Minnesotans and our waters

We have launched a special fundraising campaign to raise an additional $110,000 due to the breadth of work on PolyMet that has emerged. In addition to our work on waste dams, we have active litigation challenging the water permit and we depend on people like you to contribute and make this work possible. Thanks to hundreds of Minnesotans who make our work on mining possible. Ensure that we have the resources needed to litigate in the courts and advocate at the legislature.

Update: Stay lifted on MCEA's PolyMet land exchange lifted!

Did you know MCEA also advocates on behalf of our supporters and environment at the national level? There have been several attempts in Congress to pass a law that would nullify our appeal of the PolyMet land exchange. The U.S. Forest Service agreed to exchange public land PolyMet wants to mine for other lands. We filed a lawsuit because by our calculations PolyMet was given a sweetheart deal, to the tune of more than 6 million dollars' worth of additional lands that should have been added to the National Forest! Our lawsuit had been stayed (paused) by a federal judge because of potential Congressional action.  Thanks to the work of MCEA and many allies, we stopped those attempts and now our court case is moving forward.

Contact Us

Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy
1919 University Ave W
Suite 515
St. Paul, Minnesota 55104
(651) 223-5969

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