Court of Appeals clears way for minerals leases

Published 9:22 am Tuesday, September 10, 2013

ST. PAUL — The state does not need to order environmental reviews when it awards leases for rights to explore for metallic minerals such as copper and nickel, the Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled Monday.

A three-judge appeals panel said the sale of minerals leases does not trigger the environmental review requirements under the Minnesota Environmental Protection Act. That’s because the mere act of granting a lease does not necessarily mean the land will ever be prospected or mined, the ruling determined.

But the ruling also said the environmental review requirements may be triggered later by more specific plans for the property, such as exploration drilling or mining.

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The ruling clears the way for the state to sell a package of 31 leases that had been on hold since last year, after a group of northeastern Minnesota residents petitioned for an environmental review. They argued that they were shut out of the process, and feared that any drilling could contaminate ground water if not regulated properly.

The Department of Natural Resources concluded the review was unnecessary and denied the petition, but the state’s Executive Committee last December decided to hold off on awarding the leases until the Court of Appeals ruled.