Monday, June 25, 2012

New Northern Metals Ruling Issued

Post by Jeff Skrenes, Hawthorne Neighborhood Council Housing Director.

On June 19, Judge David C. Higgs ruled on the tangled legal web brought to us by Northern Metals.  The Order can be found here, and for the most part it seems beneficial to the community.  As a layman, there are a few significant developments I see that I hope to correctly interpret and point out.

First, the orders to stay proceedings are vacated.  That would seem to be necessary if for no other reason than to bring the case out of legal limbo.  Second, Northern Metals' requests for monetary damages are denied.  Those requests seemed to have little chance of success, and appeared to be little more than a legal bullying attempt.  Still, if they would have been granted, chances of Northern Metals failing to obtain their pollution permit would be much greater.

Finally, the MPCA is ordered to make its decision on an Environmental Impact Statement "as soon as it is administratively feasible for a meeting to take place."  This was the ruling that I and many others had anticipated would come down in some form.  We knew that the most likely decision from a judge would be that the MPCA would be told, "Ok, it's time to make a decision here.  You've got however long to do it."

Where things get really interesting is in the page-and-a-half Memorandum that follows Higgs' Order.  Remember now, this whole mess got started when a Writ of Mandamus was issued that essentially forced the MPCA into an unprecedented legal corner.  During that proceeding, and those that followed, Northern Metals has apparently asked the court to limit the criteria on which the MPCA can make its decisions surrounding the draft permit, an environmental assessment worksheet, or a full environmental impact statement.  Higgs declines to place such limitations on the MPCA.

"The district court has no right to interfere with an administrative agency which is proposing to act in a manner properly within the scope of its responsibility until final action is taken...A restriction, by this Court, on the evidence that the MPCA may receive and consider is improper as it unduly interferes with the MPCA's decision-making authority."
In essence, Judge Higgs tells Northern Metals that the MPCA is doing what it is supposed to be doing, and as long as that keeps up, the courts have no right, much less a desire, to interfere.  Now the ball is back in the MPCA's court, and hopefully the public hearing (that was just about to take place before the last court order) will resume.

**On a final technicality, there has been some minute hand-wringing over whether the petitioner in this case is Northern Metal or Northern Metals, pluralized.  Some have said that the name is actually Northern Metal.  However, since the Order clearly identifies "Northern Metals" as the petitioner, and since people throughout the community frequently refer to the company as such in speaking, I will continue to use "Northern Metals" when writing about this case.