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Lawsuit Update

Mar 18, 2020
Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters
Aerial photo of south Kawishiwi River

Court Upholds Illegal Mining Leases Next to Boundary Waters

This week, a U.S. District Court Judge in Washington, D.C. issued a ruling in our federal lawsuit that challenged the May 2018 U.S Department of Interior decision to reinstate two federal mineral leases held by Antofagasta’s Twin Metals.   


Northeastern Minnesotans for Wilderness, the leader of the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters, and nine northeastern Minnesota businesses sued in federal court to challenge the unlawful reinstatement of mineral leases that had been terminated in 2016. Four conservation groups later filed similar lawsuits, and the cases were consolidated. 

This decision is a blow to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, our nation’s most visited Wilderness Area. It allows the Trump Administration to continue its reckless march toward authorizing an industrial mining complex that will replace a legacy of conservation and recreation with pollution and environmental degradation. The Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters will fight this bad idea - and Judge McFadden’s decision - every step of the way.

Judge Trevor N. McFadden decided to give deference to the Department of the Interior’s decision to reverse its 2016 position. He concluded that the Department’s actions were not arbitrary and capricious and not “‘a guise for changing previous decisions’ based on policy preferences.” 

We strongly disagree. We believe the record clearly shows that the Trump administration reversal was a political decision to benefit Antofagasta. Our legal team’s request to introduce documents from the Department of Interior that demonstrated that the Department’s actions were motivated by politics and Trump Administration policy changes, not the rule of law or science, was denied.   

Moreover, the decision ignores the plain language of the mineral leases in question, the administrative record from the Department of the Interior and its agency, the Bureau of Land Management, and the consistent interpretation and application of these leases over the past five decades. Northeastern Minnesotans for Wilderness and its nine business partners intend to appeal Judge McFadden’s decision to the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.

This decision failed to recognize the clear, plain language of the leases and twisted itself into knots to justify the predetermined policy decision of the Trump Administration to sell out America’s most popular Wilderness to a Chilean billionaire who also happens to be the landlord of Ivanka Trump." - Executive Director, Tom Landwehr

We need your help to bring this to the Court of Appeals. Help continue our advocacy for the protection and preservation of the Boundary Waters. We will have more information to share as we learn more and dig in, but please help us take this fight to the next level with a donation today


More information:

History of the leases:

Twin Metals Minnesota’s mineral leases were originally terminated by the Obama Administration in December 2016. At the end of a three-year review and a public comment period that included two heavily-attended public meetings, the Forest Service concluded that this was the wrong location for a risky copper mine. Former Forest Service Chief Thomas Tidwell stated, “A regionally-untested copper-nickel sulfide ore mine within the same watershed as the BWCAW might cause serious and irreparable harm to this unique, iconic, and irreplaceable wilderness area.”


This 2016 decision was reversed on May 2, 2018 by the Trump Administration, which unlawfully reinstated Twin Metals’ expired minerals leases. Northeastern Minnesotans for Wilderness (NMW), the lead organization of the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters, and nine Minnesota outdoor recreation businesses challenged the unlawful reinstatement of federal mineral leases by the Trump administration by filing a lawsuit in federal court in June 2018. Two additional lawsuits were subsequently filed by four conservation groups. After the three lawsuits were consolidated into a single case, and Twin Metals intervened on the side of the Trump Administration.

The nine plaintiffs in the lawsuit are Voyageur Outward Bound School, Piragis Northwoods Company, Ely Outfitting Company, Hungry Jack Outfitters, Sawbill Outfitters, River Point Resort and Outfitting Company, Northstar Canoe, Wenonah Canoe, and Women’s Wilderness Discovery.

On Friday, December 20, 2019, NMW’s pro bono lawyers at Morrison & Foerster presented the case for NMW, nine businesses, and four conservation groups before US District Court Judge Trevor McFadden. National Chair Becky Rom and Matt Norton, Policy and Science Director for the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters, and many of our supporters and partners attended the oral arguments.

Judge McFadden unfortunately ruled in favor of the Department of the Interior and Twin Metals this week, and upheld the Trump Administration reversal of Twin Metals lease termination. We are disappointed in the decision and do not agree with it.

What happens next:

We will continue our legal challenge to the unlawfully reinstated mineral leases by filing an appeal of this decision to the U. S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.

Donate now to help us continue our efforts to protect the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness for future generations. Your support is critical.