Daily Digest: Projects and pardons
Good morning. Your Wednesday Digest is all about renewed scrutiny -- over major projects, convictions and even the pardon process itself.
1. Court, auditor to give Polymet mine project another look. A permit Minnesota regulators issued for the planned PolyMet copper-nickel mine project is under scrutiny from the state's appeals court and its legislative auditor. The Minnesota Court of Appeals has ordered a hearing on alleged irregularities in how state regulators dealt with federal regulators over a water pollution permit for the mine, which is planned to be built in northern Minnesota. The appeals court on Tuesday ordered a lower court to hold an evidentiary hearing as soon as is practical. The order follows the release of a leaked email sent by a top official at the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency to her counterparts at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, asking them not to file written comments on PolyMet's permit during the public comment period. Critics say that kept federal regulators' criticisms off the public record. The court said in its order that there is "substantial evidence of procedural irregularities" that needs to be examined. (MPR News)
2. Appeal likely after watershed district deals setback to Fargo Moorhead diversion project. The chairwoman of the Metro Diversion Authority will urge her fellow board members to vote to appeal the denial of a local permit that’s required to enable the $2.75 billion flood-control project to proceed. Mary Scherling, a Cass County commissioner and chairwoman of the diversion board, said she will seek approval to appeal the permit denial by the Buffalo-Red River Watershed District when the diversion board meets Thursday, June 27. At a meeting Monday, June 24, the Buffalo-Red board deadlocked 3 to 3 in a vote to approve the permit. Because a majority is required, the proposed permit, which included 10 conditions, failed. “Obviously, I’m disappointed,” Scherling said. “We’ve been working in good faith with the Buffalo-Red board for several months. We’ve just done everything we’ve been asked,” including working to meet the 10 conditions attached to the proposed permit. Members of the Diversion Authority board met with their lawyers Tuesday to discuss their legal options and appeal avenues. (Fargo Forum)
3. Victim makes case for changes to pardon process. Unlike most of the people who appeared before a powerful panel comprised of the governor, attorney general and Supreme Court chief justice, Amy Fredrickson wasn't asking for a pardon. She was there to stop one. Fredrickson drove from her home in Pelican Rapids to St. Paul to keep the perpetrator of her 1990 assault from getting a clean slate. She was a minor when her then-uncle Thomas Ondov raped her. He pleaded guilty to first-degree sexual assault. "I don't think it's fair that I have to relive this," Fredrickson said. "I can't erase it. And I don't think it should be erased for the person that is responsible for causing me so much harm and pain." Fredrickson said the pardons process brought her trauma back to the fore. "There is no pardon for me," she said. "That can never be erased." Gov. Tim Walz told Fredrickson her message was heard. Walz said he's sympathetic to her pain and would support legislative changes to the pardons process so it is more sensitive to victims. But he stopped short of saying the avenue should be closed off. (MPR News)
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4. Woman seeks pardon for killing husband who allegedly abused her. The Minnesota Board of Pardons does not appear likely to grant clemency to a woman convicted of killing her husband after he allegedly abused and raped her. Amreya Shefa, 46, is no longer in prison, but remains jailed while she awaits deportation. Shefa and her attorney asked the board to keep her from having to face violence in her home country. Shefa married Habibi Tesema in Ethiopia in 2006 and joined him in the United States in 2012, settling in Richfield. Shefa has said throughout their marriage, Tesema repeatedly abused her and forced her to perform certain sex acts against her will. After an alleged instance of this behavior in late 2013, Shefa stabbed her husband 30 times. The Hennepin County Medical Examiner said a wound to Tesema's heart was fatal. (MPR News)
5. Details of the Trump-Twin Metals connection. In the waning months of the Obama administration, a Chilean conglomerate was losing a fight with the United States government over a copper mine that it wanted to build near a pristine wilderness area in Minnesota. The election of President Trump, with his business-friendly bent, turned out to be a game-changer for the project. Beginning in the early weeks of Mr. Trump’s presidency, the administration worked at a high level to remove roadblocks to the proposed mine, government emails and calendars show, overruling concerns that it could harm the Boundary Waters, a vast landscape of federally protected lakes and forests along the border with Canada.For the family of the billionaire Andrónico Luksic, which controls the Chilean conglomerate Antofagasta, the policy reversals could provide a big boost to its mining business. Since the change in administration, the Antofagasta subsidiary Twin Metals Minnesota has significantly ramped up its lobbying in Washington, according to federal disclosures, spending $900,000. But the mining project’s breakthrough, already unpopular with environmentalists, has drawn additional scrutiny and criticism because of an unusual connection between Mr. Luksic and two of Mr. Trump’s family members. (New York Times)