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Environmental groups ask for investigation of new PolyMet owner

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LTV Steel processing plant
This undated file photo shows the LTV Steel processing plant near Hoyt Lakes, Minn., which was taken over by PolyMet Mining Corp. to use as a copper-nickel processing plant.
Mark Sauer | The Mesabi Daily News via AP

More than two dozen environmental advocacy groups are asking Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison to investigate the relationship between prospective mine developer PolyMet and its new majority owner.

After years of steadily acquiring a larger stake in PolyMet Mining, last month Switzerland-based Glencore acquired more than 70 percent of its stock.

The stock sale helped PolyMet pay off debt and better positioned the Toronto company to raise the roughly $1 billion it needs to build what is poised to become Minnesota’s first copper-nickel mine.

The move raised red flags for environmental groups, who pointed to earlier human rights and environmental damage allegations at other Glencore mines around the world.

Specifically, the groups want Ellison to look at whether PolyMet concealed its relationship with Glencore during the state’s permitting process; if Minnesota is adequately protected from having to pay for potential environmental clean-up from the mine, as Glencore is not listed on any PolyMet permits; and “Glencore’s history as an international bad actor.”

Steve Morse, executive director of the Minnesota Environmental Partnership and the letter’s author, argues that state officials who ultimately approved PolyMet’s permits did not consider Glencore’s impact on the project because at the time Glencore was only an investor, and not a majority owner.

“What we’ve seen here in the last few years was a classic bait and switch,” said Morse.

The attorney general’s office said it received the letter and is reviewing it.

Morse said he’s unsure what the remedy would be if Ellison found wrongdoing, but he said an investigation would help.

PolyMet spokesperson Bruce Richardson called the request “one more in a long string of attempts by environmental groups to stop the PolyMet Project.”

“As a publicly traded corporation,” Richardson said, “PolyMet has met all of its financial disclosure obligations in addition to its environmental regulatory commitments.”