Know the Issue

Trump administration's unlawful maneuvering puts Boundary Waters Wilderness at risk

Dec 14, 2018
Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters

Two important news reports were recently published that make plain the Trump administration's unlawful maneuvers to ram through federal mineral leases for the Chilean mining giant Antofagasta’s Twin Metals on the edge of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. The person at the center of these maneuvers is Koch Brothers strategist Daniel Jorjani, who has been impermissibly acting as the top lawyer for the Department of Interior the past two years, despite never undergoing the required confirmation by the US Senate.

Links to news reports:

  • “Old memos shed new light on Twin Metals leases,” -  The Ely Timberjay 
  • “Past haunts present fight over controversial Minn. Project,” -  E & E 

The news reports are based on Department of Interior documents obtained as part of a lawsuit challenging the legality of a May 2018 temporary reinstatement of expired mineral leases. These leases were not renewed in 2016 when, after years of study and overwhelming public comment, the U.S. Forest Service concluded that copper mining under these leases posed an unacceptable risk of irreparable damage to the Boundary Waters and surrounding Superior National Forest lands and waters.

Since assuming power in 2017 the Trump Administration has been ignoring science, facts, and the will of the people by systematically unwinding protections for the Boundary Waters at the behest of Antofagasta.

The Trump Administration is now on the verge of fully renewing the expired leases and granting Twin Metals the right to mine. This follows on the heels of the Trump Administration’s 11th hour cancellation of a two-year study intended to determine the benefits of a 20-year mining ban on lands near the Boundary Waters. The ban was requested by the U.S. Forest Service as necessary to protect the Wilderness from the risks posed by sulfide-ore mining. Over 94% of the 125,000 public comments on the study urged protection.


1.         The Trump Administration is rigging the legal process to ram through mineral leases for a Chilean mining boss who is also Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump’s landlordSince assuming power in 2017 the Trump Administration has been ignoring science, facts, and the will of the people by systematically unwinding protections for the Boundary Waters at the behest of Antofagasta. 

2.         Antofagasta has a history of environmental disaster and political corruption in its homeland. Antofagasta was found guilty by the Chilean Supreme Court of harming residents when the mining company located its tailings dam upstream, polluting the groundwater and blocking a critical source of water on which the community depended. They were responsible for the highest number of toxic spills in the region of Coquimbo, including one spill which dumped 13,000 liters of copper concentrate directly into a river. They faced a fine of $23.8 million and closure of its biggest copper mine in Chile over violations of its environmental permit, including water pollution.

Antofagasta has been implicated in a number of bribery and corruption scandals, including with a high-ranking Chilean cabinet minister, a questionable $10 million dollar loan to the daughter-in-law of the Chilean president, and tax fraud.

3.         The Trump Administration is suppressing important scientific information about the danger sulfide-ore copper mining poses to the Boundary Waters. The US Department of Agriculture abruptly cancelled a two year study on the impacts of copper mining on lands and communities near the Boundary Waters. The study would have shown the harm sulfide-ore copper mining would have done. The Trump administration has refused to make public the underlying ecological, public health, and economic reports prepared during the study. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Toxics Release Inventory, metal mining is the nation’s #1 toxic polluter, and a wide body of rigorous scientific literature shows the near inevitability of pollution flowing into and severely damaging the Boundary Waters.

4.         Protecting the Boundary Waters is the smart economic choice.  The BWCA is the most heavily visited wilderness area in the United States, attracting more than 155,000 visitors from all over the world and helps drive more than $900 million in economic activity every year and over 17,000 jobs. A recent independent study from Harvard University showed that protecting the Boundary Waters from the Twin Metals mine would resulted in dramatically more jobs and income over a year 20 year period.

5.         A vast majority of Minnesotans and Americans want the Boundary Waters protected from the threat of sulfide-ore copper mining. Seventy percent of Minnesotans oppose sulfide-ore copper mining near the Boundary Waters, and over 94% of the 125,000 public comments on the proposed mineral withdrawal urged protection.