Know the Issue

Unlawful actions lead to lots of lawsuits

Jul 31, 2020
Save the Boundary Waters
Photo of Boundary Waters with blue sky, blue water, and a tree silhouette sky line

On July 29, two of our partners in the fight to save the Boundary Waters filed a separate lawsuit against the Trump administration challenging the recent evisceration of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). These partners - EarthJustice and The Wilderness Society - are defending one of the nation’s most important environmental protection laws. Changes the Trump administration made will mean polluted water, degraded natural landscapes, and air that’s not fit to breath. 

Passed in 1971, NEPA is one of our nation’s bedrock environmental protection laws. It provides for a thorough review of environmental impacts for any project the federal government must approve. It guarantees that alternatives are considered, that the public has an opportunity to review the project and offer recommended improvements, and that the review process is transparent and fair. This is what we would expect our federal government to do.

It has special significance to Minnesota’s Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW). Chilean mining conglomerate Antofagasta is proposing a huge sulfide-ore copper mine on the edge of the BWCAW. Under the Obama administration, federal officials terminated leases for the project because they found sulfide-ore copper mining in the headwaters of the Boundary Waters risked irreparable harm to the Wilderness. Under the Trump administration, this science is being denied and suppressed, the project has been resurrected from the dead, and now the environmental protections are being rolled back and eliminated so the project can be fast-tracked. The proposed Twin Metals mine could be one of the first projects where the new NEPA rules will be used - a guarantee that a bad project would proceed.

While Northeastern Minnesotans for Wilderness (we lead the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters) is not a party in this lawsuitsuit, our National Campaign Chair - Becky Rom - is cited as one of the affected persons, and we have been working with the plaintiff, The Wilderness Society, and the law firm, Earthjustice. With this new suit, there are now FOUR lawsuits in the state and federal courts related to protection of the Boundary Waters. Here’s a bit of a primer and reminder on the other 3 lawsuits:

  • Federal lawsuit #1 is against the federal government for reinstating the expired federal leases previously held by Twin Metals. These leases were lawfully extinguished in 2016, but brought back to life by the Trump administration. This suit was decided against us in the Washington, DC, District Court, but we appealed and it is now under consideration in the DC Court of Appeals.

  • Federal lawsuit #2 is also against the federal government. In it, we and the other plaintiffs claim that the federal government failed to follow rules under NEPA to adequately evaluate the renewal of the federal leases. This suit was filed recently in federal district court in Washington, DC, and no judicial action has yet taken place.

  • A lawsuit was filed against the State of Minnesota in June under the Minnesota Environmental Rights Act. In this suit, the Northeastern Minnesotans for Wilderness is the only plaintiff. We are represented by the law firm of CiresiConlin, LLC. This suit claims that the regulations the Department of Natural Resources follows to govern mining are insufficient to protect the Boundary Waters. If a judge agrees, the DNR will be compelled to rewrite the rules, and there will be an opportunity to bring current science into the new rules. We are requesting that the rules be changed to prohibit sulfide-ore copper mining in the Rainy River Headwaters, which is the watershed of the Boundary Waters.

Lawsuits take time and are very expensive, so must be used judiciously. We are extremely fortunate to have outstanding partners in our pro-bono law firms. In addition to CiresiConlin, mentioned above, we are represented in federal court by Morrison & Foerster, LLC. and EarthJustice. Without their excellent help, we would not be able to bring these powerful cases against the government.