A three-judge panel of the Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled today that the state does not need to order environmental reviews before it awards exploration leases to mining companies.
Last summer, a group of about 170 landowners in northeast Minnesota asked the state Department of Natural Resources to study the environmental impacts of a routine sale of state-owned mineral rights, before holding the lease sales.
"With that sale of mineral rights, comes the right of mining companies to condemn the surface rights, and to hold leases that can last up to 50 years, having devastating effects on local property levels," said attorney Paula Maccabee of the group WaterLegacy, who represented the landowners.
DNR officials declined and auctioned off mineral rights to 64,000 acres in three northeast Minnesota counties. The landowners then appealed the decision to the Appeals Court, which agreed that environmental review is only triggered when a specific project is proposed.
DNR Director of Lands and Minerals Jess Richards said a mineral lease sale doesn't necessarily mean there will be any environmental impacts at a site.
"It's simply granting someone the rights to propose to do exploration at a mineral lease site," Richards said.
In explaining their decision Monday, the three judges wrote that an environmental review is triggered only when a specific mining exploration project is proposed.
Macabee said landowners have not decided whether to appeal to the state Supreme Court.