See more of the story

PolyMet Mining Corp. has asked a judge to bar news photographers and recording equipment from a court hearing next week examining whether state and federal regulators mishandled a water pollution permit for its proposed mine in northern Minnesota.

The proceedings could be “misconstrued” by the media, the company said.

PolyMet asked the court to limit audio and visual recording by the Star Tribune and MinnPost to witness testimony only, except for two witnesses who said they don’t want to be recorded: Brad Moore, a former commissioner of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) who is now an executive at PolyMet; and Christie Kearney, PolyMet environmental site director.

If visual and audio coverage is allowed, the court should “severely restrict” it, lawyers for PolyMet said in an objection filed Tuesday in Ramsey County District Court.

“Limiting the coverage in this manner will decrease the likelihood that any party could be prejudiced by the media coverage of the hearing, and increase the likelihood that the hearing is not derailed by grandstanding and attempts to create viral media moments.”

The Star Tribune will challenge PolyMet’s petition, Senior Managing Editor Suki Dardarian said Wednesday.

“Because so much concern has been expressed about the way decisions were made in this high-profile case, it seems clear that more transparency now will serve the public interest,” Dardarian said. “I am befuddled by the company’s argument that recordings could lead to inaccurate coverage. Our experience is that recorded coverage actually helps us more accurately convey the evidence and arguments being presented and discussed in court.”

Minnesota court rules grant several exceptions to the general ban on cameras and recorders in courtrooms, one of which says the judge can allow exceptions “for the presentation of evidence, for the perpetuation of a record or for other purposes of judicial administration in civil proceedings.”

Cameras and recording devices can be allowed without the consent of all parties, as long as witnesses who object are not recorded or photographed.

PolyMet’s objection is among a raft of documents being filed before the St. Paul hearing, which starts Jan. 21 and is scheduled to last five to 10 days.

The evidentiary hearing was ordered by the Minnesota Court of Appeals last summer after environmental advocacy groups charged that the MPCA and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency had colluded to suppress serious concerns that career EPA scientists had raised about a water pollution permit for PolyMet’s proposed $1 billion open-pit copper-nickel mine on the Iron Range. Opponents of the mine and a retired EPA lawyer said the scientists’ concerns were deliberately kept out of the written public record on the permit — a charge supported by a set of internal documents obtained by the Star Tribune.

A Minnesota Court of Appeals panel decided there was “substantial evidence of procedural irregularities” and kicked the matter to Ramsey County District Court for the evidentiary hearing.

PolyMet’s water-pollution permit remains suspended pending the outcome.

Separately, three other permits issued to PolyMet by the state Department of Natural Resources were reversed last week by the Minnesota Court of Appeals. The court found that the DNR erred in refusing to conduct a so-called contested case hearing before an administrative judge to vet environmental objections raised by several conservation groups and the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa. The court sent the permits back to the DNR and ordered it to conduct the case hearing.

Those objections involve a range of issues, including the safety of a huge “tailings basin” that would hold mine waste and whether Glencore PLC, the Swiss mining conglomerate that now owns a majority of PolyMet, should be a named party on the permits.

Jennifer Bjorhus • 612-673-4683