The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, St. Paul District, announced June 6, that it revoked the previously suspended NewRange Copper Nickel Company’s permit for the NorthMet mine.
Corps officials revoked the Clean Water Act Section 404 permit because the permit does not ensure compliance with water quality requirements of the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa. The Corps made this decision after thoroughly considering all information provided to the district at a public hearing hosted in May of 2022 to include the evaluation and recommendations provided by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and information provided by the Fond du Lac Band (Band) under their respective water quality authorities granted by the Clean Water Act, as well as information provided by NewRange Copper Nickel Company and the public.
The Corps initially completed its Record of Decision and issued a Section 404 Clean Water Act individual permit for regulated activities at the NorthMet project March 21, 2019. At that time, Corps officials determined the project was compliant with all applicable federal laws and regulations. The Corps subsequently suspended the permit March 17, 2021, at the request of the EPA, while the EPA considered effects from the project under Section 401(a)(2) of the Clean Water Act to water quality downstream in the state of Wisconsin and within the Band’s Reservation. The EPA issued a “may affect” determination to the Band and the state of Wisconsin on June 4, 2021. The Band submitted an objection to the permit and its “will affect” determination on Aug. 3, 2021, and requested the Corps hold a public hearing.
The Corps held a public hearing in May 2022, to seek information on whether the permit should be re-issued, revoked, or modified with new conditions to ensure compliance with the Band’s applicable water quality requirements. During the hearing, the Band provided information on its determination that the NorthMet project will violate its water quality requirements. The EPA agreed with the Band and recommended the Corps not reinstate the suspended permit. The permittee provided information to support their view that the project would not violate the Band’s water quality and requested the Corps reinstate the suspended permit. The Corps also received verbal and written comments from the public.
Given the Corps’ jurisdiction under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act, the Band and EPA’s water quality authority provided in the Clean Water Act, and the absence of sufficient permit conditions to ensure compliance with the applicable downstream water quality requirements of the Band as required by Section 401(a)(2) of the Clean Water Act, the Corps must revoke the suspended permit. The decision does not preclude NewRange Copper Nickel LLC from submitting a new permit application that will meet all applicable water quality requirements for its project.
The Corps’ decision memo on this action may be found here.
Corps of Engineers’ Letter of Revocation for NorthMet Clean Water Act Section 404 permit