What happened

Shares of PolyMet Mining (NYSEMKT:PLM) rose as much as 43.6% today after the company announced progress in settling regulatory disputes that have delayed plans to begin operating the NorthMet mine in Minnesota. In March, the state's court of appeals remanded the development-stage asset's air permit. This week, the Minnesota Supreme Court agreed to hear an appeal of the lower court's decision.

It's the second time the Minnesota Supreme Court has agreed to listen to appeals about the NorthMet mine. In January, the court of appeals remanded the asset's permit to mine and two dam-safety permits, although the Supreme Court will review those decisions, too. If the company can successfully argue its case, then it could be one significant step closer to beginning operations at the mine.

As of 12:18 p.m. EDT on Wednesday, the small-cap stock had settled to a 19.1% gain.

A man holding a white arrow pointing up.

Image source: Getty Images.

So what

PolyMet Mining has conducted various environmental reviews of the NorthMet mine and its projected impact on surrounding ecosystems. While all human developments have an impact on the environment, there are processes in place to bring together affected stakeholders, agree on compromises, and proceed with acceptable levels of risk. The ongoing legal disputes are part of that process, although one that's proved frustrating for investors.

Despite the delays to date, a combination of factors suggests the NorthMet mine is likely to enter commercial operations eventually. The asset has access to existing infrastructure including rail lines, roads, and utilities. It will create over 300 permanent jobs at nameplate capacity. And, perhaps most important, the asset has significant geopolitical value.

The NorthMet mine could become one of the largest copper, nickel, and cobalt mines in North America. Given the strategic importance of those metals in clean energy technologies including wind turbines, fuel cells, and lithium-ion battery chemistries, and the fact the United States has limited production capacity of such resources today, the nation would benefit immensely from a NorthMet mine operating at full capacity.

Now what

Today's update signals progress toward beginning operations at the NorthMet mine, but investors have to remember there's no guarantee the Minnesota Supreme Court will rule in the company's favor.

That said, the asset's geopolitical importance alone suggests it'll begin operations eventually. To be blunt, the global economy's transition to renewable energy will require a significant amount of high-impact activities such as mining. The goal is to find an acceptable level of risk to arrive at the future, since eliminating risk is impossible. 

Given the lowly stock price and high degree of uncertainty, PolyMet Mining has a long way to go before it becomes attractive to individual investors. Keep an eye on developments, but be wary of opening a position with the information at hand.