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Justice Department wants Twin Metals' lawsuit dropped

In this photo from 2010, a worker holds a core sample showing a polymetallic deposit from the Twin Metals exploration area east of the Kawishiwi River in northern Lake County. (2010 file / News Tribune)

The U.S. Department of Justice late Monday filed a motion asking a federal judge to dismiss the lawsuit by Twin Metals that seeks renewal of federal mining leases that had been withdrawn by the Obama administration.

The move is a blow for copper mining supporters who had hoped the Trump administration would drop opposition to the lawsuit and re-issue the permits to allow the mine to advance.

Twin Metals needs the permits to continue exploring and planning for a large underground mine along the Kawishiwi River southeast of Ely, along the edge of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

But in a last-minute move during the Obama administration, the Interior Department and Department of Agriculture said they were taking the leases back from Twin Metals and imposing a moratorium on any new mining in a buffer area around the BWCAW, saying the risk of acid mine runoff into the BWCAW watershed from the mine was simply too great. The moratorium could be extended to 20 years.

Without the federal leases, the Twin Metals project likely would be dead.

Twin Metals sued to get the leases back. Now, the Justice Department is fighting that effort, a sign that the Interior Department under Trump may be sticking with the moratorium.

"The Forest Service's decision not to renew the leases was committed to agency discretion... thus, Plaintiffs' claim must be dismissed as it is not actionable under the" Administrative Policies Act, the Department of Justice said in its 20-page motion.

Twin Metals spokesman Bob McFarlin said that the company "is reviewing the motions to dismiss, and we look forward to presenting our responsive arguments to the court."

The motion comes a week after U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue told members of a House committee that the moratorium would continue at least through a study of overall mining impact on the federal wildreners.

The two signs from the Trump administration are bolstering opponents to copper mining in the BWCAW watershed.

Becky Rom, national chairwoman of the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters, which has intervened as a defendant in the case, said the Department of Justice made "the right decision" to oppose the Twin Metals lawsuit which claims the leases were illegally withdrawn.

"The federal government is clearly within its rights to decline to renew publicly owned mineral leases on the edge of the Boundary Waters, leases that would almost certainly lead to irrevocable harm to the wilderness," Rom said. "We look forward to a dismissal of this case and an end to the immediate threat posed by sulfide-ore copper mining to America's most popular wilderness."

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