Twin Metals files suit against federal government for renewal of mineral leases
Twin Metals has filed a lawsuit in federal district court in Minnesota in response to the announcement from the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) that it would not automatically renew the mineral leases held be Twin Metals for the ore deposits next to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCA).
The BLM was supported in April by U.S. Department of the Interior which issued the opinion that the BLM has the discretion to deny renewal of the mineral leases for the underground copper-nickel mine. The decision echoed environmental concerns expressed by Gov. Mark Dayton and denying the leases would likely prove fatal to the $2.8 billion mining project.
In a statement released Sept. 13, Twin Metals, a subsidiary of the international mining conglomerate Antofagasta PLC, said, “An essential component of Twin Metals’ mineral rights is its entitlement to non-discretionary renewal of these leases. The government has long recognized this renewal right.”
The company noted that uncertainty over the project “makes it impossible for Twin Metals to engage in any long-term planning, investment, development, and operational decisions, effectively thwarting any development of the mineral estate; materially harming the future mining project; and jeopardizing Twin Metals' $400 million investment to date.”
Moreover, the company said, the federal government's action “appears to be motivated by political pressure and unsupported allegations about potential impacts of future mining development in the region.”
The BLM’s decision to not automatically renew the leases was supported by environmental groups and other opponents of the proposed mine.
However, Minneapolis Star-Tribune reported that there is a lot of support for the mine as well. It is seen by many as a way to save communities on the Iron Range that have been devastated by a slumping world market for iron ore and massive layoffs. Supporters argue that Twin Metals should be allowed to proceed with its exploration and present a plan for mining that would get the same kind of environmental review as other projects.
The mineral leases, which Twin Metals acquired from other mining companies that explored the area, have been in place since the mid-1960s, long before current federal environmental laws took effect. They’ve been renewed twice without additional environmental reviews or public hearings.
But last February, Dayton came down on the side of environmentalists when he announced that he would not grant the company access to state lands for its project because he had “grave concerns” about the potential impact on the state’s crown jewel, the BWCA.
Twin Metals' project is one of two proposed copper-nickel mines under review for northeast Minnesota. PolyMet Mining Corp. has completed an environmental review and is applying for permits for an openpit mine about 20 miles to the southeast of Twin Metals. In contrast to the underground mine proposed by Twin Metals, Polymet’s would drain into the St. Louis River watershed and into Lake Superior.
The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court of Minnesota, names as defendants the Bureau of Land Management, the Department of the Interior and its Secretary Sally Jewell and Solicitor Hilary Tompkins.