Twin Metals loses lawsuit seeking renewal of mineral leases

Twin Metals headquarters in Ely.
Twin Metals headquarters in Ely. (Greg Seitz/Wilderness News)

A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed by Twin Metals Minnesota against the Department of the Interior for mining leases near the BWCA.

The company, owned by Antofagasta PLC of Chile, was seeking to have its leases to extract federally-owned minerals renewed. Judge Christopher Cooper ruled that their legal claims were unsupported by law and precedent.

Twin Metals’ leases date to 1966, when they were first issued to International Nickel Co. The company was interested in mining copper and nickel at the site near Birch Lake, southeast of Ely. The leases were passed to subsequent corporations before ending up with Twin Metals. After being renewed every 10 years since, in 2016, the Obama administration first rejected the renewal. The Trump administration in turn reversed the rejection. In early 2022, Biden appointees overturned that decision and again revoked the mineral rights. Twin Metals sued.

A win for environmentalists

Several environmental groups and local businesses joined the suit on the side of the Interior Department, including the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters.

“This is a great day for the Boundary Waters,” said Ingrid Lyons, executive director. “Twin Metals tried to force renewal of terminated federal mining leases next to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. The United States government followed the rule of law and moved to dismiss this unlawful lawsuit. We are one step closer to permanent protection for the Boundary Waters watershed.”

In its decision, the court found that “that the Court lacks jurisdiction over two of Twin Metals’ claims and that the remaining two fail to state a claim.”

Twin Metals has been dealt potentially fatal blows in recent years. The Biden administration resumed an Obama administration effort to ban mining in the wilderness watershed — including the Twin Metals site — for at least 20 years.

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