MINNEAPOLIS, MN The owners of a proposed $1.7 billion copper-nickel mine in northeastern Minnesota that would be located upstream from the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness filed a lawsuit against the Biden administration on Monday to demand the resumption of federal mineral rights leases.
The Department of the Interior allegedly broke the law earlier this year when it terminated the leases, according to Twin Metals Minnesota’s lawsuit, which was filed in federal court in Washington. In order to move on with the environmental assessment and approval process, the firm requested that the court rule that the leases are still legal and in effect.
The proposed underground mine is fighting for its life in the face of shifting political tides near Birch Lake, southeast of Ely. The two leases, which had been in place for more than 50 years, were not renewed by the Obama administration in its final weeks in office. The leases were resumed after the Trump administration overturned its first judgment. The Obama administration attempted to enact a potential 20-year mining moratorium in that region, but the Biden administration terminated the leases in January.
The lawsuit asserts that Interior officials “exercised a carefully coordinated series of unconstitutional acts” after the 2021 administration change, which resulted in the termination of Twin Metals’ leases. The lawsuit claims that the coordinated campaign amounted to “nothing less than an unconstitutional endeavor to rewrite the policy decisions that Congress has made about the correct balance between environmental concerns and the availability of mining on public lands.”
Interior Department representatives declined to comment on the case.
Dean DeBeltz, director of operations for Twin Metals, said in a statement, “We are defending our right to a fair and consistent environmental examination of our proposed mining project. “Our strategy is supported by years of research and analysis and is based on the most advanced environmental design, which is specific to the site of our project and the mineral deposit there. Federal regulators ought to give it a fair assessment based on its merits.
The proposed moratorium would “withdraw” 352 square miles (912 square kilometers) of the Superior National Forest’s Rainy River watershed from further mineral leasing for a period of 20 years. That poses a threat to Twin Metals’ demise. However, a second project, the proposed PolyMet mine next to Babbitt and Hoyt Lakes, which is located in a different watershed, would not be impacted by it.
To create the groundwork for the ban, the U.S. Forest Service released a draft environmental assessment in June with the stated goal of “preventing further detrimental environmental impacts from future mining activities.” The deadline for public comments was August 12. Deb Haaland, secretary of the interior, will make the final choice.
Environmental organizations have been opposing Twin Metals for years, claiming that the danger of acid mine drainage poses an intolerable threat to the nation’s most popular wilderness region that has been officially declared.
According to a statement from Chris Knopf, executive director of Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness, “the Trump administration improperly renewed these mineral leases.” “The Department of Interior appropriately halted this illegal mining activity after carefully weighing the law, policy, and science. This pointless litigation prioritizes money above people and jeopardizes the Boundary Waters’ pure water.
Last month, a U.S. House committee approved a bill introduced by Democratic U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum to outlaw copper-nickel mining in the same region as the planned moratorium.
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