Three lawsuits filed to defend rejection of mineral leases near the Boundary Waters

E. Barrett Prettyman U.S. Courthouse, in Washington, D.C., where the cases will be heard. (Photo by AgnosticPreachersKid via Wikimedia)
The E. Barrett Prettyman U.S. Courthouse, in Washington, D.C., where the cases will be heard. (Photo by AgnosticPreachersKid via Wikimedia)

In a trio of lawsuits filed Friday and Monday, a coalition of nine businesses that depend on the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, a coalition of national environmental groups, and the Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness filed suit to protect the wilderness watershed from copper mine proposals.

All three lawsuits seek to uphold the Obama-era decision to reject federal mineral leases held by Twin Metals in the Superior National Forest. Last month, the Trump administration overturned that decision.

The recent legal action comes on the heels of pro-mining statements by President Trump during a rally in Duluth last week.

“Tonight, I’m proudly announcing that we will soon be taking the first steps to rescind the federal withdrawal in Superior National Forest and restore mineral exploration for our amazing people and miners and workers, and for the people of Minnesota — one of the great natural reserves of the world,” Trump said.

The comments seem to indicate his administration will soon halt a study of possible mining impacts on the wilderness watershed, and the possible 20-year moratorium that could result.

Taking it to court

The groups involved in the litigation say restoring the leases to Twin Metals was illegal, and would harm their ability to create jobs and other economic benefits.

“My clients would be repelled by water and noise pollution and other harm to the Boundary Waters,” said Steve Piragis, owner of Piragis Northwoods Company and one of the plaintiffs. “They will stop using substantial areas of the Boundary Waters, including important entry points and major canoe routes. Others will cease to visit at all because it will no longer be the place they love and remember.”

The lawsuit includes Wenonah Canoe, Northstar Canoe, Voyageur Outward Bound School, Piragis Northwoods Company, Ely Outfitting Company, Hungry Jack Outfitters, Sawbill Outfitters, River Point Resort and Outfitting Company, and Women’s Wilderness Discovery, as well as Northeastern Minnesotans for Wilderness. Minneapolis law firm Best & Flanagan and Washington, D.C. firm Morrison & Foerster are representing the group.

“Nearly 16 months after the leases’ expiration, the [Bureau of Land Management] purported to reinstate them based on a dubious claim that the decision to reject the renewal application was based on a legal error,” the complaint reads. “According to Defendants, Interior and the BLM are bound to renew the leases regardless of the Forest Service’s objection and its statutory right to disapprove mineral-leasing decisions in the Superior National Forest.”

A separate suit filed Monday includes plaintiffs The Wilderness Society, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Izaak Walton League of America, represented by Earthjustice, a San Francisco-based nonprofit law organization.

“[The mine’s impacts would] degrade the wilderness character of the Boundary Waters, including by fouling its pristine and interconnected waterways, disturbing its outstanding opportunities for solitude and primitive recreation, and diminishing its untrammeled, natural appearance,” the lawsuit states.

The Friends of the Boundary Waters also filed a suit Monday seeking to stop the lease renewals, saying the attempt to renew the leases was “based on a torturous reading of the law and flat out ignored the fact that the leases could only be renewed with consent from the Forest Service.”

In 2016, Twin Metals sued the federal government for the right to automatic renewals of its leases, without giving any agency the power to reject them.

In response to the latest lawsuits, company spokesman Bob McFarlin told MPR News, “Twin Metals firmly believes there is no basis for a court to disturb the reinstatement of the leases, and will take appropriate steps to defend the government’s actions.”

All the lawsuits were filed in federal district court in Washington, D.C. No hearings have yet been scheduled.

View the complaints:

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