For Immediate Release, May 10, 2021

Contact:

Marc Fink, Center for Biological Diversity, (218) 464-0539, mfink@biologicaldiversity.org
Jeremy Drucker, Northeastern Minnesotans for Wilderness, (612) 670-9650, jeremy@savetheboundarywaters.org
Jen Parravani, The Wilderness Society, (202) 601-1931, jparravani@tws.org

Agreement Reached on Mining Exploration Permits Near Boundary Waters Wilderness in Minnesota

DULUTH, Minn.— Conservation groups and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management reached an agreement today that requires the agency to revisit its decision to renew 13 prospecting permits. The permits could have allowed Antofagasta’s Twin Metals Minnesota to significantly expand its proposed sulfide-ore copper mine at the edge of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in northeastern Minnesota.

The groups filed suit in 2020 to challenge the four-year extension of the prospecting permits. To settle the lawsuit, the BLM has agreed to provide for public comment, conduct an analysis under the National Environmental Policy Act, consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service about the plan’s potential harm to endangered species, and then issue a new decision. The BLM also agreed to prohibit any ground-disturbing activities while it reconsiders its decision.

“After the horrendous years of the Trump administration, federal officials now appear focused on rational, science-based decision making,” said Marc Fink, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “A thorough scientific analysis of these permits and Twin Metals’ related proposals will show that a massive copper-sulfide mine just upstream from the spectacular Boundary Waters wilderness is simply too great a risk. We’re confident this agreement will help lead to preserving this beloved place for future generations.”

These prospecting permits, along with the company’s mineral leases, are part of Twin Metals’ attempt to create a mining district on the Superior National Forest, just upstream from the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. Between the company’s leases and permits, a roughly 30-square-mile area is at stake, including rivers, lakes, wetlands and forest that provide critically important habitat for wildlife like moose, wolves and Canada lynx.

“We are fundamentally opposed to the development of a toxic mining district in the watershed of the Boundary Waters,” said Tom Landwehr, executive director of Northeastern Minnesotans for Wilderness. “As determined by the U.S. Forest Service in 2016, this type of mining is not compatible with retaining the pure and wild ecosystem of the area. Today's agreement is a step in the right direction in returning to good governance and fact-based decision-making."

Legal challenges to the reinstatement and renewal of Twin Metals’ mineral leases have been put on hold while the Biden administration determines how to ensure protection for the Boundary Waters. U.S. Sen. Tina Smith (D-Minn.) recently called on the administration to withdraw this area from mining while it conducts a comprehensive, science-based analysis of whether copper-sulfide ore can be safely mined in this watershed. In April U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minn.) introduced a bill to permanently protect the watershed from copper mining.

“Today’s agreement is an important step in restoring proper, lawful process and informed decision-making concerning proposed copper mining on the doorstep of the Boundary Waters,” said Alison Flint, senior legal director at The Wilderness Society. “The Biden administration has a lot of work ahead to repair the damage of the last four years and must do what is necessary to protect this irreplaceable resource. We’re confident that the science will show this landscape is too precious and vulnerable for this type of mining.”

Under today’s agreement, the BLM will conduct a scientific ecological review of the potential harms from extending prospecting permits in this area, within the context of the related mineral leases and Twin Metals’ mine proposal. After the required environmental analysis and endangered species consultation, the Forest Service will have the authority to not consent to the permit extensions and the BLM, as regulator of the mineral estate, will have the authority to cancel them.

The 13 prospecting permits would have allowed Twin Metals to drill holes, build roads and do other mining exploratory work throughout more than 15,000 acres of Superior National Forest. The permits would greatly expand the location where Twin Metals has proposed a copper mine and waste piles just upstream from the Boundary Waters’ protected public lands and waterways.

Twin Metals’ mining proposal would cause severe environmental damage to the region’s forests, lakes, rivers and wetlands that lie between Birch Lake and the edge of the Boundary Waters. The Boundary Waters is America’s most-visited wilderness area.

Today’s agreement settles the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., by the Center for Biological Diversity, Northeastern Minnesotans for Wilderness and The Wilderness Society.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

Northeastern Minnesotans for Wilderness is the founder and lead organization for Save the Boundary Waters, a campaign to permanently protect the Boundary Waters Canoe Area and keep proposed sulfide-ore copper mines out of its wilderness edge.

The Wilderness Society, founded in 1935, is the leading conservation organization working to protect wilderness and inspire Americans to care for our wild places. With more than one million members and supporters, The Wilderness Society has led the effort to permanently protect 111 million acres of wilderness and to ensure sound management of our shared national lands.

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