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Lobbyist: Lawmaker said he’d close metal shredder

There’s a new twist in the long-running legal fight between the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and the company that operates a controversial metal shredding facility on the banks of the Mississippi River in north Minneapolis.

In a sworn affidavit included in Northern Metals’ most recent batch of legal filings, veteran lobbyist Ron Jerich alleges that Rep. Joe Mullery, DFL-Minneapolis approached him at a DFL fundraiser this summer and baldly stated, “You are not going to like me much because I’m going to put your clients out of business.”

That remark prompted Valerie Jerich (Ron Jerich’s wife and a fellow lobbyist) to ask Mullery, “I suppose you got the MPCA to put those monitors up” — a reference to two air pollution monitors that have been at the heart of much of the recent legal wrangling.

According to affidavit, Mullery then “bombastically boasted that ‘I told them to put them [monitors] on those c—suckers’ doorsteps” and even offered a $10 wager that the MPCA would ultimately prevail in its fight with Northern Metals.

“Almost everything in there [the affidavit] is false,” responded Mullery, who was unaware of the affidavit until he was contacted by Minnesota Lawyer, a Finance & Commerce sister publication.

“I never said I was going to drive his client out of business. That’s just absurd,” he said.

Mullery also maintained that he did not use the vulgarity Jerich attributed to him in the affidavit. “Everybody will know that’s a lie. I don’t use the word, and he uses it a lot. That’s great, because it proves he’s making this up.”

The lawmaker was broadly critical of the Northern Metals legal tactics, including its bid to force the MPCA to remove the monitors, which he characterized as “incredibly bizarre.”

If it succeeds, he said, “It would basically destroy all efforts at environmental protection in Minnesota.”

Reached by phone, Jerich said he has not spoken with Mullery since swearing out the affidavit but remains comfortable with his decision to put it on the record.

“I did it because it was right. I’ve been here 38 years and I’ve always thought, if you tell the truth, you have no problems,” Jerich said.

In a Sept. 29 brief, MPCA attorney Ann E. Cohen dismissed the Jerich affidavit as essentially irrelevant. In a footnote, she characterized the exchange in question as “a bantering conversation about this case with a non-party at a social gathering.”

According to Northern Metals’ attorney Jack Perry of the firm of Briggs and Morgan, the Jerich affidavit did not come up at a hearing on Monday, where the MPCA was seeking summary judgment on Northern Metals’ mandamus petition seeking the removal of the pollution monitors.

Still, Perry said he emerged from the hearing increasingly optimistic about his client’s legal prospects.  “I suspect it will be a much different case within the next few weeks,” he added.

The metal shredder has been a source of political controversy and litigation since 1989, when American Iron — the corporate predecessor to Northern Metals — first announced plans for the facility. Following years of wrangling over permitting issues, American Iron sued the city of Minneapolis and, in 2000, received an $8.75 million settlement.

The shredder remained unbuilt until Northern Metals, a subsidiary of the European scrap giant EMR, bought out American Iron. It commenced operations in 2009.

This summer, Northern Metals filed a mandamus petition asking Ramsey County District Court Judge John Guthmann to force the removal of the two air pollution monitors installed immediately adjacent to the shredder, asserting that the MPCA violated its own protocols as well as those of the Environmental Protection Agency.

In a counterclaim, the MPCA responded that the monitors had established that Northern Metals caused or contributed to an “unprecedented run” of air quality violations in the vicinity. The agency characterized the company’s petition as “a thinly veiled attempt to prevent the MPCA from doing its job.”

In a subsequent memorandum, the MPCA asserted that it has “essentially unlimited authority … to conduct investigations” of air pollution in the state.

The agency also urged Guthmann to rebuff Northern Metals’ request for a time extension to allow for more discovery, noting that Northern Metals has already submitted over 2,000 pages of MPCA documents into the record and had “more than two months” to respond to the summary judgment motion.

“If Northern Metals is now willing to admit that it is playing a role in the particulate matter exceedances and is willing to take actions necessary to reduce its contribution, this case could be resolved,” Cohen wrote. “The MPCA has always been willing to work with Northern Metals to identify the sources of particulate matter that it is generating and what might be done to reduce them.”

Such an amicable resolution seems like a long shot — particularly given Northern Metals’ recent doubling down on its position that regulators and lawmakers are simply trying to shut down the shredder as part of a land grab.

“Rep. Mullery and his like-minded politicians in Minneapolis have done everything possible to accomplish this goal,” Perry wrote.

As one piece of evidence, Perry pointed to the recent shuttering of the Upper St. Anthony Falls navigational lock, which Northern Metals had relied on to move its product via barge.

While advocates cast the lock closure as a necessary measure to prevent the upriver spread of invasive Asian carp, Perry argued that’s just a fig leaf to conceal the true motivation: squeezing heavy industry from the urban riverfront to accommodate the city’s redevelopment plans.

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