Attorneys representing the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) have asked a federal judge to dismiss a lawsuit filed by Twin Metals Minnesota that challenged an opinion by DOI that said the company does not have an automatic right of renewal of its mineral leases.
Twin Metals Minnesota is working to develop a large underground copper-nickel mine in northeastern Minnesota.
Attorneys for the DOI said that the lawsuit by Twin Metals Minnesota is premature because it doesn’t challenge a final agency decision, as required by law. They noted that the department’s Bureau of Land Management has yet to decide whether to renew the leases, which were first issued in 1966 last renewed in 2004.
Twin Metals said that when it filed the lawsuit in November the opinion had cast a “cloud of uncertainty” over the leases that makes it difficult to proceed with its proposed $2.8 billion mine near Ely.
Twin Cities.com reported that the mine has drawn opposition because it would be upstream from the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.
Before the bureau can renew the leases, it needs consent from the U.S. Forest Service, which manages the Superior National Forest and the Boundary Waters. In June, the service said it was “deeply concerned” about potential acid mine drainage and would conduct a scientific review to help it decide.
Twin Metals says it should be allowed to renew its leases so it can go through the formal environmental review process and prove that it can protect the wilderness while creating hundreds of jobs. The company issued a statement saying it “will evaluate the government’s response and respond to the court.”
One group opposed to the project, Northeastern Minnesotans for Wilderness, filed its own motion to dismiss the lawsuit in November. The group, represented by a former U.S. attorney for Minnesota, Thomas Heffelfinger, made very similar arguments to the government’s motion.
“Plaintiffs will have the opportunity to challenge BLM’s final decision, whatever it may be, when it is made,” the government’s motion said. “This Court should not permit them to short-circuit BLM’s decision-making process based upon predictions that may or may not prove true.”
A hearing on the motions is set for April 28 before U.S. District Judge Susan Richard Nelson.