Twin Metals takes legal action

Lawsuit latest chapter in battle over key mineral leases for copper mine

by Tom Coombe
Twin Metals Minnesota is going to court in an attempt to regain mineral leases that are pivotal to the company’s efforts to build a copper-nickel mine near Ely.
Flanked by supporters including representatives of northeastern Minnesota trade unions, Twin Metals officials announced the lawsuit Monday at a Hermantown labor hall.
“We are standing up for our right to a fair and consistent environmental review of our proposed mining project,” wrote Dean DeBeltz, Twin Metals’ director of operations, in a statement
The suit was filed this week in U.S. District Court against the Department of Interior, the federal Bureau of Land Management and agency officials - including Interior Secretary Debra Haaland.
It comes in the wake of earlier action by the Biden Administration to revoke leases that had been granted in 2019 by the Trump Administration.
For several years, the Twin Metals project has been caught in a political back-and-forth, with the Obama Administration taking action to pull the leases and pursue a mining moratorium on thousands of acres of national forest land in the region, followed by the Trump Administration reversing course.
The pendulum swung again when Biden took office, curtailing Twin Metals’ plan for development.
Earlier this year the chief executive officer of Antogafatsta, the Chilean mining conglomerate that owns Twin Metals - pledged legal action.
The company followed through this week and charged that“ the defendant officials within the Department of the Interior exacted a tightly coordinated set of unlawful actions targeting Twin Metals’ rights and property interests.”
Twin Metals contends that “federal agencies have taken politically motivated actions to kill the Twin Metals project,” setting what they call is “a dangerous precedent.”
Twin Metals contends that the mine plan it submitted three years ago should be able to proceed through the regulator process and proceed based on its merits.”
In its suit, Twin Metals is asking for court action to set aside federal decisions against the project, reinstate mineral leases and give the company more time to secure permits and meet other milestones.
Amid the uncertainty, state regulators have suspended review of the project.
Earlier this year, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Commissioner notified Twin Metals that the agency “has directed its staff to stop work on the environmental review for the proposed Twin Metals project.”
The Twin Metals project has been in the works for well over a decade. It remains in the development stage as work has continued to advance a project, near Birch Lake, that promises hundreds of new high-paying mining jobs and has been billed in some circles as part of a new era of mining in northeastern Minnesota.
Twin Metals has pressed for the government to follow existing regulatory processes and has promised to meet and exceed all environmental standards. It contends the minerals it proposes to mine -copper, nickel, cobalt and platinum group metals – are needed for clean energy technologies that are essential to combat climate change and secure domestic supply chains.
The project has faced significant pushback from environmental interests
Opponents have sought a permanent ban on mining near the BWCAW and say the Twin Metals project would destroy the region’s water-rich environment and devastate the area’s tourism and amenity-based economies.
The Twin Metals project has spurred the launch of the national Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters, which is fighting on several fronts to derail the new mine.
Opponents were quick to respond to the latest salvo by Twin Metals.
“This lawsuit is destined to fail,” said Becky Rom, national chair of the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters and a resident of the Ely area.
Rom charged that the action by the Biden Administration to block the Twin Metals project were within the law and established legal precedent and “reflect the will of Minnesotans and the American people.”
Chris Knopf, executive director of the Friends of the Boundary Waters said Monday that “this frivolous lawsuit puts profits over people and threatens the clean water of the Boundary Waters.”
Twin Metals, however, also found support for its action, including from Jobs for Minnesotans, a group that brings together the Minnesota Building and Constructions Trades Council and the state’s Chamber of Commerce.
“Jobs for Minnesotans firmly stands behind Twin Metals Minnesota’s right to a fair review of their project,” said Dave Chura, executive director of Jobs for Minnesotans. “These actions set a dangerous precedent. They are an attack on all mining in northeast Minnesota, jeopardize domestic access to critical clean energy minerals and are an affront to the people of northeast Minnesota who have proudly and responsibly developed natural resources for generations.”