New lawsuit challenges Biden decisions to block mining near BWCA

Twin Metals headquarters in Ely.
Twin Metals headquarters in Ely. (Photo by Greg Seitz, Wilderness News)

The company behind a proposal to mine for copper and nickel near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness has filed suit over government actions to block the project. Twin Metals LLC, a subsidiary of Chilean conglomerate Antofagasta PLC, sued the Interior Department to overturn recent decisions that essentially halted progress on the mine proposal.

The suit was filed in the U.S. District Court of Washington, D.C. It claims Biden administration officials executed an “arbitrary, capricious, and unlawful evisceration of Twin Metals’ mineral rights” when officials reversed earlier decisions made by the Trump administration. Twin Metals is asking the court to restore its right to mine on public land, which would require an analysis of its risks to water and other resources.

“We are standing up for our right to a fair and consistent environmental review of our proposed mining project,” said Dean DeBeltz, Twin Metals’ Director of Operations. “Our plan is backed by decades of exploration and analysis and is rooted in the most environmentally sophisticated design, which is tailored for our project location and mineral deposit. It deserves a fair evaluation by federal regulators based on its merits.”

The current conflict is rooted in the question of legal rights to publicly-owned minerals on the Superior National Forest. Twin Metals plans to use mineral leases first issued to preceding companies 60 to 70 years ago. In the waning days of the Obama administration, the government decided not to renew the leases for the first time. The Trump administration quickly reversed that decision, restoring the leases to Twin Metals, but then Biden’s administration reverted to the Obama decisions upon taking office.

Map: Twin Metals Mining Near Boundary Waters BWCAW
Map of proposed Twin Metals mine (Map: Greg Seitz/Wilderness News, Data: U.S. Bureau of Land Management)

In a complaint filed August 22, the company’s lawyers argued Interior Department officials orchestrated an illegal effort to revoke the leases.

“This coordinated campaign constituted nothing less than an unlawful attempt to rewrite the policy choices that Congress has made about the proper balance between environmental concerns and the availability of mining on public lands,” the complaint reads.

Environmentalists who have sought to stop the mine since 2013, and who previously celebrated the Obama and Biden administration actions, sounded confident the decisions will withstand the legal challenge.

“The Biden administration’s actions to protect the Boundary Waters were well-considered, consistent with legal precedent and established public policy, and reflect the will of Minnesotans and the American people,” said Becky Rom, National Chair of the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters. “This lawsuit is destined to fail.”

The suit claims it violated the Administrative Procedure Act, which “forbids this kind of arbitrary and capricious political whipsawing.” It is the same law the anti-Twin Metals group the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters filed suit under in 2018 to challenge Trump administration actions.

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