Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness files lawsuit against the federal government

On June 25, Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness filed a lawsuit in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia to protect the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness from the sulfide-ore mine proposed by Twin Metals, a subsidiary of the Chilean-owned mining conglomerate Antofagasta.

Twin Metals’ sulfide-ore mine is a direct threat to the outdoor economy of northern Minnesota, which is heavily dependent on tourism and recreation. Clean water is a main reason the Boundary Waters has been protected by the federal government as a wilderness area for the past 100 years. With over 150,000 annual visitors, the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness is the most visited wilderness area in the country.

In May 2018, the federal government took action to reinstate Twin Metals’ expired mineral leases on federal lands near the Boundary Waters. This move reversed a previous action cancelling Twin Metals’ leases, originally granted in the 1960s. Twin Metals was not entitled to an automatic renewal of its mineral leases, and the U.S. Forest Service concluded that a sulfide-ore mine in the same watershed as the BWCAW was an unacceptable risk to “this unique, iconic, and irreplaceable wilderness area.”

The government’s move to resurrect the expired leases undercuts both the terms of the leases as well as the well-reasoned and transparent decision not to renew the leases due to the risk to the Boundary Waters.

“The federal government is flip-flopping in a way that it does not have power to do,” said Chris Knopf, Executive Director of Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness. “It was an arbitrary and unlawful decision made in favor of a Chilean mining company that wants to conduct a type of mining that has a history of causing environmental damage.  We will not let them come to Minnesota and destroy the Boundary Waters and harm the economy that has developed around this national treasure.”

At stake in the lawsuit is whether or not the government had power to resurrect the expired leases and whether the terms of the leases allowed an automatic renewal.