Federal judge denies challenges to Twin Metals’ permits
Officials at Twin Metals celebrated a federal judge’s decision to deny challenges to the reinstatement of key leases to the copper nickel project in Minnesota.
In a memorandum order filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C, Judge Trevor McFadden said new evidence introduced by opponents of the project would not have changed his earlier March 2020 decision that upheld the Trump administration’s decision to reinstate the leases.
“Twin Metals Minnesota is pleased with the U.S. District Court’s conclusion that our leases were reinstated in accordance with the law,” Twin Metals spokesperson Kathy Graul said. “We also applaud the court’s thorough and thoughtful decision-making in denying the plaintiffs’ motion.”
The Duluth News Tribune reported the court said the new evidence presented by opponents to the mine was not enough.
“Plaintiffs have moved the needle from ‘no evidence’ to ‘some evidence.’ But they are still far from submitting the ‘clear evidence’ needed to surmount the presumption that Interior faithfully discharged its duties. ... The Court will not stretch to infer bad faith when case law mandates otherwise. The new evidence would not have changed the outcome in this case,” McFadden said.
The new evidence comes from a batch of emails obtained by the group American Oversight that show discussion about the project among members of congress, lobbyists for Twin Metals and staff at the federal agencies responsible for the leases.
Opponents said a March 2017 letter from U.S. Rep. Tom Emmer, R-Delano, to Ryan Zinke, Trump’s Interior Secretary, urging him to reverse Obama’s decision on Twin Metals was “political pressure.” Additionally, opponents said the emails show “Interior staff expressly requested ‘policy direction’” on an opinion from the Interior's Office of Solicitor that that called Obama's move to pull the leases a legal error.
“Collectively, these documents establish that the 2018 Reversal was not prompted by any internal process in the ordinary course to correct a basic legal error in the interpretation of the leases, but by a shift in policy after Congressional Representatives and the mining company pressured the new administration about the alleged importance of the mine proposal,” the groups wrote in a November joint motion asking McFadden for a relief from judgement so it could be remanded to the Court of Appeals.
The Trump administration in 2017 reinstated Twin Metals' mineral leases, reversing a decision made in the final days of the Obama administration that rescinded the mining company's federal mineral leases over concern it would pollute the BWCAW if it ever opened a mine in the same watershed.
Twin Metals submitted plans in December 2019 for an underground mine, processing plant and dry-stacked tailings storage facility on the edge of Birch Lake near Ely. Birch Lake flows into the Kawishiwi River, which then flows into the BWCAW.