Twin Metals Sues U.S. Government Over Mining Rights

The minerals company claims government figures are refusing to give it automatic renewal of the right to mine in an area near the Boundary Waters.

Concerned that it may lose its mineral lease in land near Ely, Twin Metals Minnesota filed a federal lawsuit in the U.S. District Court in Minnesota on Monday.
Twin Metals is seeking to invalidate the Department of the Interior Solicitor Hilary Tompkins’ call for the Bureau of Land Management to pull Twin Metals’ lease. Public officials, including Gov. Mark Dayton, have voiced “grave concerns” about mining on the Kawishiwi River, which neighbors the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.
Since 1966, the federal government has issued leases for exclusive rights to prospect the land with the option to mine for additional fees related to how much ore is mined.
Twin Metals, which is based in St. Paul but is a subsidiary of international mining giant Antofagasta, applied for a renewal of its lease in mid 2013. Before the end of the year, government officials are expected to say if they plan to renew the lease or further investigate the area to see what potential there is of inflicting significant environmental damage.
“The government’s actions have cast a cloud of uncertainty over Twin Metals’ mineral rights,” the company said in a statement. “The Solicitor’s opinion 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 in acquisition, exploration, technical, and other activities to develop these minerals.”
Twin Metals believes it has “entitlement to non-discretionary renewal” of the mineral leases, as it claims to have received during the renewal process in 1989 and 2004. As for the lease in question, no company has been denied automatic renewal in its 50-year history.
However, certain public figures believe the lease’s approval to Twin Metals was never guaranteed.
“It is a longstanding fact that renewals of the Twin Metals federal mining leases are discretionary,” Becky Rom, national chairperson of the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters, told the Duluth News Tribune. “Federal mining leases that pose significant risks to the Boundary Waters should be denied.”
Supporters of the Twin Metals mine point to the economic gains that the mine could bring, including jobs and the production of billions of pounds of copper and nickel, along with platinum, palladium, gold and silver.
Twin Metals’ lawsuit names the Department of the Interior (and specifically Solicitor Hilary Tompkins), the Bureau of Land Management, and Interior Secretary Sally Jewell as the defendants.