For Immediate Release
May 31, 2023
Contact: Libby London (612) 227-8407
Minnesota Department of Natural Resources finds current State rules inadequate to protect the Boundary Waters and will move to amend the state's sulfide-ore copper mining rules accordingly
Today, the MN Department of Natural Resources released its Findings of Fact as part of a first-of-its-kind lawsuit challenging Minnesota’s outdated non-ferrous mine siting rules, brought by Northeastern Minnesotans for Wilderness, founder and lead organization of the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters.
(ELY, MN)-- Today, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (MN DNR) determined that Minnesota’s non-ferrous metallic mine siting rule is inadequate to protect the Boundary Waters from the toxic noise and light pollution inherent to sulfide-ore copper mining. The DNR says it will propose a new rule to expand the size of the State BWCAW Mineral Management Corridor Protection Area set forth in Minn. R. 6132.2000, subp. 3(A). NMW is reviewing the DNR's order to determine its next steps.
"It’s encouraging that the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources recognizes that the existing rules, promulgated 30 years ago, are no longer adequate to protect the Boundary Waters," said Ingrid Lyons, Executive Director of the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters. We will work through the process to ensure that subsequent proceedings properly address all of the priceless natural resources at risk from pollution, impairment, and destruction if sulfide-ore copper mining were allowed in the Boundary Waters watershed.”
Today’s determination by the MN DNR was filed in Minnesota State District Court in Ramsey County.
A 2017 report by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency describes the waters within the Rainy River Watershed area as “exceptionally clean” and “immaculate,” and concludes that "the majority of the waterbodies within this watershed had exceptional biological, chemical, and physical characteristics that are worthy of additional protection." The Boundary Waters is our nation’s premier lakeland National Wilderness Area and the most visited of all such areas. A defining characteristic is water: twenty-four percent of the Boundary Waters is water.
On June 24, 2020, Northeastern Minnesotans for Wilderness (NMW) challenged the state’s non-ferrous mine siting rules pursuant to Section 10 of the Minnesota Environmental Rights Act (MERA) with legal representation by a team of lawyers at Ciresi Conlin LLP. This lawsuit is the first to challenge a state rule under Section 10 of MERA (Minn. Stat. Chapter 116B.10) NMW is the only plaintiff in the case. The lawsuit alleges that the current mining rules - adopted 30 years ago - are inadequate to protect the Boundary Waters and the Rainy River Headwaters from pollution, impairment, or destruction. The current rules allow sulfide-ore copper mining in the Rainy River Headwaters, next to and just upstream from the Boundary Waters. Polluted air, sound, light, and waters from sulfide-ore copper mining in the upstream half of the Rainy River Headwaters would flow downstream directly into the Boundary Waters and on into Quetico Provincial Park and Voyageurs National Park.
After NMW brought the case, a Ramsey County Court remanded NMW’s claim to the MN DNR to undertake an administrative process to determine whether or not Minnesota’s nonferrous mining rules fail to adequately protect the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and the Rainy River Headwaters from pollution, impairment, or destruction.
The finding that NMW met the burden of proof required for a review of the adequacy of the state's rules was not challenged by the MN DNR, the defendant in the lawsuit. However, NMW's standing to bring the lawsuit was challenged by Chilean mining conglomerate Antofagasta subsidiary Twin Metals Minnesota, an intervenor in the lawsuit. The Court affirmed NMW's standing and directed the DNR to begin a review of the state's mine siting rules. That process began in November of 2021 with a 30-day public comment period that generated 8,823 comments, the majority of which opposed allowing sulfide-ore copper mines in the Rainy River Headwaters.
On January 26, U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland signed a Public Land Order (PLO) that withdrew 225,504 acres of federal lands and minerals located in the Rainy River Headwaters upstream of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness from the federal mineral leasing program for 20 years.