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Wildlife groups sue agencies over assessment on PolyMet mine

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FILE - In this Feb. 10, 2016, file photo, the closed LTV Steel taconite plant sits idle near Hoyt Lakes, Minn. The site, which closed in 2001, may return to life as part of Minnesota’s first copper-nickel mine, owned by PolyMet Mining Corp. PolyMet is offering Minnesota a $544 million package of financial assurances to serve as an insurance policy to protect taxpayers from having to cover the costs of shutting down and cleaning up the copper-nickel mine it proposes to build in northeastern Minnesota. (AP Photo/Jim Mone, File)

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — A proposed copper-nickel mine in northern Minnesota that potentially could threaten the Lake Superior watershed, is facing more legal action.

A lawsuit filed Tuesday by several environmental organizations alleges that the PolyMet Mining Corp. project threatens critical habitat for gray wolves, Canada lynx and the northern long-eared bats.

They say a wildlife assessment on impacts of the mine is highly flawed and decisions based on the study violate the Endangered Species Act.

The 42-page complaint names Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers as defendants.

Among other things, the environmental groups are seeking to void the June 2018 land exchange between the Forest Service and PolyMet, the Star Tribune reported.

The suit is the latest of several challenges to the now-stalled $1 billion mine near Babbitt and Hoyt Lakes. PolyMet, based in St. Paul, is majority owned by mining giant Glencore in Switzerland.

The Minnesota Court of Appeals on Monday reversed a decision by regulators to issue a water quality permit for the project.

It now goes back to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency to determine whether any pollution discharges from the mine into groundwater would violate the federal Clean Water Act. The ruling favored the mining company on most other issues.

Back in 2018, PolyMet estimatesd the mine would cost $945 million, as CEO Jon Cherry was complaining then about the cost of inflation. Previous estimates had put the tab around $650 million.

WaterLegacy says that PolyMet proposes to blast and dig over 500 million tons of waste rock and ore from the ground over 20 years. The PolyMet deposit is a low-grade deposit, with a higher concentration of sulfur than of copper and nickel combined. Over 99% of what would be dug out of the ground from the PolyMet mine would be waste. The mine would leave behind two huge contaminated mine pits, a 526-acre permanent waste rock site, a toxic hydrometallurgical waste disposal site and a huge tailings waste basin.

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