One of the critical ways we fight to protect the Boundary Waters is to ensure that the state and federal governments follow laws regulating public lands and minerals. Unfortunately, over the four years of the Trump administration, the federal government has engaged in unlawful activities to promote sulfide-ore copper mining on public lands in the watershed of the Boundary Waters, including reversing decisions without following the rules, engaging the public, or considering science. At the state level, decades old rules benefit mining companies because they fail to incorporate current science and ignore the siting of sulfide-ore copper mines away from valuable and vulnerable areas.
Sometimes we find that the best path forward to resolve these conflicts is through lawsuits brought in federal and state courts. Hiring law firms to sue the government or a foreign mining giant is generally not feasible for the budgets of most public interest nonprofit organizations - including Northeastern Minnesotans for Wilderness, the lead organization in the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters. We have been extremely fortunate, however, because we have benefited from extraordinary pro bono legal representation by several law firms and additional legal guidance from other non-profit organizations.
In particular, we have been represented in our federal efforts, including three lawsuits,by Morrison & Foerster, LLP, a national law firm headquartered in San Francisco, since 2013. In that time, we have initiated two major lawsuits against the federal government and joined a third lawsuit as an intervenor. In the two lawsuits still pending, we have challenged the unlawful reinstatement of expired mining leases and the subsequent renewal of the expired mining leases for Antofagasta’s Twin Metals. Top notch lawyers from Morrison & Foerster and their many support staff have provided an extraordinary amount of pro bono legal services (“pro bono” means at no charge). They have worked countless hours on behalf of Northeastern Minnesotans for Wilderness and have built extremely strong cases on our behalf. We are convinced that when the Courts hear our cases that we will prevail in overturning the unlawful practices of the Trump administration. A special thanks to the Best & Flanagan law firm and Stephen Snyder for their pro bono assistance with our federal lawsuits in the role as local counsel for Northeastern Minnesotans for Wilderness.
We are engaged in a fourth federal lawsuit challenging federal prospecting permits on public lands next to the Boundary Waters. In this case, we are represented pro bono by the Center for Biological Diversity. The Center has done an exceptional job demonstrating the failure of the Bureau of Land Management to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act and the Endangered Species Act. We are optimistic that this case will be resolved favorably. Thanks to Marc Fink and Alli Melton and the entire team at the Center for representing Northeastern Minnesotans for Wilderness.
At the state level, we have been extremely fortunate to secure the pro bono services of Ciresi Conlin, LLP, a Minneapolis law firm. The Ciresi attorneys and staff have documented a strong case under the Minnesota Environmental Rights Act that state mining rules are insufficient to protect the Boundary Waters. The lawsuit demands that the mining rules be changed to prohibit copper mining in the headwaters of the Boundary Waters, a reflection of the serious negative impact sulfide-ore mining would have on the Boundary Waters. The state has proposed a process to review the rules. Antofagasta’s Twin Metals has opposed this, of course, and we are presenting our case to the Court at this very moment. While this lawsuit has only been underway for less than a year, we are already the beneficiary of generous pro bono legal assistance.
Finally, we have enjoyed effective collaboration with environmental attorneys at the non-profit law firm EarthJustice. This group of attorneys works with us and our partners at Morrison & Foerster to build and bring our lawsuits against the federal government. They specialize in environmental law, and have incredible expertise in this area. In addition, Northeastern Minnesotans for Wilderness has several attorneys on our Board of Directors that help guide and advise all of our legal efforts.
Without these extremely generous and talented firms, we would be without one of our most powerful tools in the fight to protect the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. We are extraordinarily grateful for the outstanding legal services these firms bring to our cause. Everyone who enjoys the BWCAW today - and for those that will enjoy it tomorrow - owes a huge debt of gratitude to these amazing partners.