Northeastern Minnesotans for Wilderness and Ten Local Businesses Join Federal Government in Twin Metals Lawsuit

Dec 22, 2022
Jeremy Drucker

Northeastern Minnesotans for Wilderness and Ten Local Businesses Join Federal Government in Twin Metals Lawsuit

The local businesses argue their businesses will be irredeemably harmed by sulfide-ore copper mining next to the Boundary Waters

(Ely, MN)-- Today, Northeastern Minnesotans for Wilderness (NMW), the lead organization in the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters, and ten area businesses moved to intervene on the side of the federal government against a Twin Metals lawsuit that seeks to force the renewal of terminated leases next to the Boundary Waters Wilderness. In addition, the businesses and NMW moved to dismiss Twin Metals’ lawsuit. The lawsuit is before Judge Christopher R. Cooper of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, No. 1:22-cv-2506-CRC.  

NMW and the ten businesses will face significant harm should Antofagasta’s Twin Metals be allowed to revive its rejected plan to build a dangerous sulfide-ore copper mine along rivers, lakes, and streams that flow directly into the Wilderness. Sulfide-ore mining is considered the most toxic industry in America and would cause devastating effects to the Boundary Waters, which is America's most visited Wilderness and an economic engine for a sustainable regional economy. 

Becky Rom, Vice chair of Northeastern Minnesotans for Wilderness and National Chair of the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters said, "Toxic mining has no place next to America's most visited Wilderness. The Boundary Waters is a national treasure, and the Biden Administration made the right decision, based on science and the law, to protect this place for future generations."

Steve Piragis, owner of Piragis Northwoods Company and a prospective intervenor in the case, said in a declaration filed with the court, "The threat that sulfide ore mining represents hits me and our business at the core of our existence. Thousands of paddlers pass through our doors each summer, telling us how important this pure wilderness is to their lives and their psyches."  

Last week, the local Ely paper, the Timberjay, explained the lawsuit writing:

The Twin Metals’ suit alleges that the Biden administration engaged in arbitrary and unauthorized decision-making when Interior Department Deputy Solicitor Ann Marie Bledsoe Downes overturned a Trump-era legal opinion issued by then-Interior Solicitor Daniel Jorjani. Jorjani had determined that Twin Metals had an absolute right to three ten-year renewals under the original lease. Twin Metals was seeking the third and final of those permit renewals when the Obama administration canceled the leases in 2016.

Jorjani’s opinion, issued in 2017, overturned previous opinions issued by Interior legal counsel from the Reagan, Bush, and Obama administrations, which had all determined that any lease renewal was discretionary on the part of the Interior Department. Based on Jorjani’s opinion, the Trump administration argued it had no choice but to reinstate the leases that the Obama administration had canceled.

In reversing Jorjani, the Biden administration was largely consistent with the view of previous administrations, based on the language in the original 1966 leases, which appeared to condition any right of renewal on the start of mining operations within the first 20-year term of the leases. Yet no mining operation has gotten underway in the more than 50 years since the leases were originally issued.

A vast collection of peer-reviewed science shows that if a Twin Metals mine was built along the rivers and streams flowing into the Wilderness, pollution and environmental degradation would be certain.  A peer-reviewed independent study from Harvard University showed that protection of the Boundary Waters from the proposed sulfide-ore mine would result in dramatically more jobs and more income over a 20-year period. Nearly 70 percent of Minnesotans support permanent protection for this priceless Wilderness area.