Legal Action to Stop the Trump Administration's Attack on the BWCA

Today we took an important step against the Trump administration’s attack on the Boundary Waters.

For a full picture, let’s begin with a look back to 2016.

The danger of a proposed copper sulfide mine at the edge of the Boundary Waters was all too real. For years, a coalition of people had banned together to stop this toxic mine.

We knew that copper-sulfide mining would all but be guaranteed to pollute this pristine area.

The scientific community issued warnings about the dangers of sulfide mining and the majority of Minnesotans didn’t want it. But the big question was: How to legally stop this mine?

The chink in the armor was in the mineral leases held by Twin Metals, the Chilean-owned company seeking to open the copper-sulfide mine.

These leases were up for renewal. If their application for renewal was denied, they would expire. Without the mineral leases, Twin Metals could not move forward.

After close scientific study and weighing in on public opinion, the Forest Service concluded that the risk copper sulfide mining posed to the area was too great, and could cause serious and irreparable harm to this unique, iconic and irreplaceable wilderness area.

Based on the language of the leases, Twin Metals was not guaranteed an automatic renewal. Without the Forest Service’s consent, the leases could not be renewed. They would expire.

Many breathed a sigh of relief.

An attack on the Boundary Waters

When things appeared to be looking up for the Boundary Waters, a new administration came to town. Wasting no time, the Trump administration began to cater to special interests. High ranking officials at Department of the Interior met with executives from Antofagasta, the Chilean-based company that owns Twin Metals.

Towards the end of 2017, they announced Twin Metals’ expired mineral leases would be renewed.

Why the reversal?

Copper-sulfide mining threatens the pristine beauty of NE Minnesota.  Photo courtesy Adam Stanzak

Copper-sulfide mining threatens the pristine beauty of NE Minnesota. Photo courtesy Adam Stanzak

According to the opinion of the Interior’s Deputy Solicitor, Daniel Jorjani the previous decision was based on a legal error. Twin Metals was entitled to an automatic renewal of their leases.

This reading, which involved a tortured, and unconvincing bit of rhetorical acrobatics, came after Jorjani met at least three times with officials from Antofagasta.

It was evident that reinstating the leases wasn’t based on sound legal reasoning. It was a political favor, done for the benefit of a foreign-owned company.

In June of 2018, Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness and numerous other groups joined together to sue the Trump administration and stop the reinstatement of the expired leases.

Legal Action for the Boundary Waters

Today, the lawsuit brought by the Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness and our partners, took a major step forward. Lawyers representing the Friends and our partners filed a motion for a summary judgement, a milestone in this federal case that began last June.  

According to our brief to the court, in reinstating the Twin Metals’ mining leases, the Department of the Interior:

  1. Overstepped its authority and circumvented the statutory and regulatory scheme for issuing mining leases.

  2. The basis for Interior’s reinstatement rests on a new legal opinion reinterpreting the leases. This ignores the proper interpretation of the leases and imposes a tortured reading on the contractual terms contrary to fundamental principles of interpreting government contracts, in order to advance a pro-mining policy in favor of Twin Metals.

Read the motion

Read the motion

Antofagasta has a dismal environmental record in its home country and would pollute the Boundary Waters with this mine. In addition to a solid scientific and environmental case against sulfide mining, we are presenting a solid legal argument against the reinstatement of these expired mineral leases.

What is at stake is that the Trump administration is doing the bidding of the Chilean international conglomerate Antofagasta, which owns the Twin Metals copper-sulfide mine.

In filing this motion, we are asking the judge to vaca­te — or overturn — the Department of Interior’s reinstatement of Twin Metals’ leases

It will be some time before the judge hands down his opinion. In the meantime, we are optimistic and grateful to be working on behalf of you and thousands of other supporters.

Thank you for speaking up for wilderness and clean water. 

Your donation will help our legal efforts and ensure the BWCA remains protected for generations to come.