Three environmental groups are suing the Trump administration after it granted 13 prospecting permits for an area near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness to controversial mining company Twin Metals.
In a lawsuit filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Washington D.C., the Center for Biological Diversity, Northeastern Minnesotans for Wilderness and the Wilderness Society allege federal agencies failed to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act, Endangered Species Act and their regulations when approving the permits, which cover more than 15,000 acres of national forest land near the BWCAW.
The lawsuit names the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Forest Service and Mitchell Leverette, the state director of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management's Eastern States office, as defendants.
"Today’s lawsuit argues that the Bureau of Land Management, in deciding on May 1 to extend the prospecting permits for four more years, failed to consider how Twin Metals’ mine plan, mineral leases and permits could harm the critical resources of the Boundary Waters watershed," the Center for Biological Diversity said in a news release. "The Bureau also failed to consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service over potential harm to three endangered species and their critical habitat: Canada lynx, gray wolves and northern long-eared bats."
As the News Tribune reported in May, the extensions of the permits were approved by the Bureau of Land Management on May 1, which gives the copper-nickel mining company the exclusive right to explore for minerals with drilling and other methods on that federal land through April 2024. The permits do not allow the company to mine there.
The prospecting permits all sit outside the area of Twin Metals' proposed underground mine, processing plant and dry-stacked tailings storage area near Birch Lake. In December, the company filed its formal project proposal to regulators for that mine, kicking off a yearslong state and federal environmental review process.
In its release, the Center for Biological Diversity said the permits "could allow Twin Metals to significantly expand its proposed sulfide-ore copper mine."
In May, Twin Metals told the News Tribune that "no determination regarding mining potential has been made on those sites."
The lawsuit is just one of several that opponents have filed to stop the proposed mine.
Opponents of Twin Metals, owned by Chilean mining conglomerate Antofagasta, have long argued a mine within the same watershed as the BWCAW would pose environmental risks to the wilderness and say the project could send tainted runoff into the BWCAW. Supporters say the mine would bring much-need jobs to the region.