Update: 5 Lawsuits to Protect the BWCA

Aug 5, 2020
Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters
Photo of the Boundary Waters with the text "5 Lawsuits to protect the BWCA" infront of it

Today, the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters, with two other conservation groups, the Center for Biological Diversity and The Wilderness Society, filed a lawsuit challenging the Trump administration over its decision to renew 13 prospecting permits that could lead to an expanded Twin Metals sulfide-ore copper mine.

Any sulfide-ore copper mining in the watershed of the Boundary Waters would cause irreparable damage to America’s most visited Wilderness. This isn’t just our opinion, but also the conclusion of the U.S. Forest Service.

The renewed prospecting permits allow Twin Metals to drill exploration holes, build roads, and do other mining exploratory work throughout more than 15,000 acres of Superior National Forest. The goal of Twin Metals is to find additional mineral deposits and to expand its proposed mining project. Altogether the renewed permits extend well beyond the geographic footprint of the proposed Twin Metals mine. The area covered by the renewed permits extends south along Birch Lake and east to the very edge of the Wilderness. All are within within the watershed of the Boundary Waters and within the headwaters of lakes and rivers that flow into the Wilderness.

The Bureau of Land Management, in deciding on May 1 to extend the prospecting permits for four more years, failed to consider how Twin Metals’ mine plan, mineral leases and permits could harm the critical resources of the Boundary Waters and its watershed. The Bureau also failed to consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service over potential harm to three federally listed endangered species and their critical habitat: Canada lynx, gray wolves, and northern long-eared bats. 


This is the fourth lawsuit the Campaign, working with conservation partners, has filed in response to the Trump Administration’s continuous attacks on the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. Critical decisions are being rendered without consideration of scientific and ecological knowledge and  without public notice or input.  The proposed Twin Metals mine project has been resurrected from the dead, while bedrock environmental laws and regulations are being rolled back, weakened, or eliminated - risky sulfide-ore copper mining in the  headwaters of the Boundary Waters is being fast-tracked.

Under the Obama administration, federal officials terminated Twin Metals mineral leases because the U.S. Forest Service concluded that sulfide-ore copper mining in the headwaters of the Boundary Waters was risky and threatened irreparable harm to the Wilderness - harm that could never be fixed or mitigated.

With this new lawsuit, there are now FIVE 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 lawsuits:

  1. Federal lawsuit #1: Reinstatement of Leases - This lawsuit is against the federal government for reinstating two expired federal mineral 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. The case is now under consideration in the DC Court of Appeals. We are represented by the national law firm of Morrison & Foerster.

  2. Federal lawsuit #2: Renewal of Leases- This lawsuit 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 two resurrected Twin Metal mineral leases. This suit was filed in May 2020 in federal district court in Washington, DC. We are represented by the national law firm of Morrison & Foerster.

  3. State lawsuit: Minnesota Rules -  This lawsuit was filed against the State of Minnesota in June under the Minnesota Environmental Rights Act. In this suit, the Northeastern Minnesotans for Wilderness, the sole plaintiff, is represented by the law firm of CiresiConlin, LLC. We are challenging the Department of Natural Resources’s nonferrous regulations which we believe are insufficient to protect the Boundary Waters. If we are successful, the DNR will be compelled to rewrite the rules, and there will be an opportunity for consideration of current science. Specifically, we request that the rules be changed to prohibit sulfide-ore copper mining in the entire Rainy River Headwaters, which is the watershed of the Boundary Waters. Sulfide-ore copper mining is currently banned in the northern half of the Rainy River Headwaters (the Boundary Waters) but the southern half - which constitutes the headwaters of the watershed - is unprotected. Our contention is that the only way to ensure that the waters of the Boundary Waters remain clean and without degradation from mining is to ban sulfide-ore copper mining in the southern half. All waters in the southern half flow north into the northern half. Eighty percent of the Boundary Waters is in the northern half of the watershed and are at significant risk unless the DNR regulations are updated to reflect modern science and common sense.

  4. NEPA Lawsuit: Environmental Rollbacks - While Northeastern Minnesotans for Wilderness (lead organization of the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters) is not a party in this lawsuit, our National Campaign Chair - Becky Rom - is cited as one of the affected persons. This lawsuit against the Trump administration challenges the recent evisceration of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Our partners in the fight to protect the Boundary Waters - 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 and sharply limit public involvement in some of our nation’s most important natural resource decisions.

  5. Federal Lawsuit #3: Renewal of Prospecting Permits -  This lawsuit challenges the Trump administration over its decision to renew 13 prospecting permits that could allow Twin Metals to significantly expand its proposed sulfide-ore copper mine.

Your support to protect the Boundary Waters is critical. The Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters is leading the fight to protect America’s most visited Wilderness. Help us stop this rush to build a dangerous mine on the doorstep of our beloved canoe country. Donate now.

Check out the recording and slides from our August 13 town hall where we heard from Save the Boundary Waters Campaign National Chair Becky Rom and Alison Flint, Senior Legal Director for The Wilderness Society, about how we are working together to protect the Boundary Waters.

Watch here.