The Minnesota Court of Appeals has upheld a state agency's denial of an application by Northshore Mining Co. to relax an air quality standard at its taconite plant in Silver Bay.
It's the second time in recent months that a court has rejected the company's efforts to relax the standard. A federal judge in December also let the standard stand.
The "control-city standard" dates back to a federal appeals court ruling in 1975 when the plant belonged to Reserve Mining. The standard says asbestos levels in the air in Silver Bay can't be any higher than those normally found in a control city, in this case St. Paul.
Processing the ore used at the Silver Bay plant "results in the release of asbestos fibers that may be dangerous to human health," the appeals court wrote in its decision Tuesday. The court was not persuaded by Northshore's contention that the mineral released is not the same thing as asbestos fibers.
Northshore has argued before Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and the courts that the control-city standard is obsolete. The company has also argued that the MPCA was wrong when it rejected its application to drop the standard from its operating permit.
Northshore had sought to amend its permit through a streamlined process, usually used for minor corrections or clarifications, that requires no public notice and no opportunity for public comment or hearings on the change. The MPCA ruled last year that Northshore was seeking a substantial change that required a more extensive review.
The appeals court affirmed the MPCA's decision, saying that Northshore was seeking to "eliminate a substantive monitoring requirement." It also said Northshore had failed to demonstrate that the control-city standard is obsolete.