RELEASE: Northeastern Minnesotans for Wilderness files a request for a contested case hearing as part of its lawsuit challenging the State’s outdated non-ferrous mine siting rules

Jun 29, 2023
Libby London

For Immediate Release
June 29, 2023
Contact: Libby London (612) 227-8407

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Northeastern Minnesotans for Wilderness files a request for a contested case hearing as part of its lawsuit challenging the State’s outdated non-ferrous mine siting rules

(ELY, MN) -- Today, Northeastern Minnesotans for Wilderness filed a request for a contested case procedure challenging the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources’ Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law, and Order on Remand as part of a first-of-its-kind lawsuit seeking to amend Minnesota’s outdated non-ferrous mine siting rules. 

On May 31, 2023, 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. However, MN DNR failed to adequately address the critical threat this type of mining poses to water quality.

"The waters of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness are protected by both state and federal policies that require the Boundary Waters to be protected as Wilderness and require no net degradation - meaning zero water pollution. Moreover, Minnesota’s reclamation policies restrict mining in areas that cannot be reclaimed or fixed after pollution. Damage to the pristine waters of the Boundary Waters from upstream sulfide-ore copper mining cannot be repaired or mitigated. It’s clear that DNR’s decision last month regarding Minnesota’s non-ferrous metallic mine siting rule will not achieve state and federal policies and the protections they necessitate. By filing this contested case demand, we have an opportunity to permanently protect the interconnected lakes and waterways in the watershed of the Boundary Waters from the risk of pollution, impairment, and destruction for generations to come," said Ingrid Lyons, Executive Director of the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters, “The science is clear, and we are committed to working to ensure that the DNR addresses all of the risks to our priceless natural resources that would be jeopardized by sulfide-ore copper mining in the Boundary Waters watershed.”

 A 2017 report by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency describes the waters within the Rainy River Watershed area (where the Boundary Waters is located) 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: 24% percent of the Boundary Waters is water, and along with the Superior National Forest, it contains 20% of all the freshwater in the entire National Forest System.

About the contested case:

  • MN DNR acknowledges, as it must, that existing federal and state policies require it to prevent any pollution of the waters of the Boundary Waters. The Boundary Waters is both a federally protected wilderness and Minnesota’s only state-protected wilderness. These federal and state wilderness laws and policies demand that the pristine character of the Boundary Waters be protected and preserved. 
  • Under the federal Clean Water Act as implemented by Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, the waters within this protected wilderness area must be subjected to no net degradation. These are the policies that DNR’s mine siting rules must adhere to.
  • NMW’s case is not about whether the DNR should revise its mine siting rules to make a new policy. It is about the need to revise those rules to implement the policies that have already been enacted by Congress and the Minnesota Legislature.
  • DNR’s decision that Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s existing water quality standards are sufficiently protective of the Boundary Waters assumes that nothing will ever go wrong: that no human errors will take place; that unforeseen natural problems, whether resulting from climate change or the ordinary vagaries of weather and geography, will never occur; that there will be no engineering, mechanical, or technical failures.  Unfortunately, toxic sulfide-ore copper mining always pollutes water. 100% of sulfide-ore copper mines have resulted in surface or groundwater pollution.
  • The only way to implement federal and state policies that require DNR to protect the Boundary Waters is to prohibit nonferrous metallic mining within the Rainy River Headwaters watershed. There is no way to prevent the likelihood of negative impacts to the Boundary Waters short of a complete prohibition.