The owners of a planned $1.7 billion copper-nickel mine in northern 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 complaint, which was filed in federal court in Washington. In order to go 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 planned underground mine is fighting for its life in the face of changing political tides at 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 last weeks in office. The leases were reinstated after the Trump administration overturned its initial decision. The Obama administration attempted to enact a possible 20-year mining ban in that region, but the Biden administration terminated the leases in January.
The complaint asserts that Interior officials “exercised a carefully coordinated series of unconstitutional acts” after the 2021 administration shift, which resulted in the termination of Twin Metals’ leases. The complaint claims that the concerted effort amounted to “nothing less than an unconstitutional endeavor to rewrite the policy decisions that Congress has made concerning the correct balance between environmental concerns and the availability of mining on public lands.”
Interior Department representatives refused 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 planned 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 authorities need 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 danger to Twin Metals’ demise. However, a second project, the planned 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 additional detrimental environmental consequences from future mining activities.” The deadline for public comments was August 12. Deb Haaland, secretary of the interior, will make the ultimate choice.
Environmental organizations have been opposing Twin Metals for years, claiming that the danger of acid mine drainage presents an intolerable threat to the nation’s most popular wilderness region that has been officially declared.
According to Becky Rom, national chair of the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters, “the Biden administration’s measures to safeguard the Boundary Waters were well-considered, consistent with legal precedent and established public policy, and represent the desire of Minnesotans and the American people.” “This case is doomed to failure.”
The sulfide-bearing ore would be less exposed to the impacts of air and water because to the subterranean architecture and other aspects of Twin Metals, which is owned by the Chilean mining corporation Antofagasta. When the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources suspended its own environmental assessment procedure in February, citing the company’s loss of its federal leases, it was in the early stages of applying for state licenses.
The project, according to the corporation and others who support it, is essential for ensuring local supply of copper, nickel, and other minerals required for the growth of wind and solar power as well as electric cars. The mine would provide more than 750 high-paying mining employment plus 1,500 spinoff opportunities in the area, according to the business, which has already spent more than $550 million in the project over the last 12 years.
Last month, a U.S. House committee approved a measure introduced by Democratic U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum to outlaw copper-nickel mining in the same region as the planned moratorium.