REGIONAL— The Minnesota Court of Appeals has found that Ely-based Northeastern Minnesotans for Wilderness has the right to bring a lawsuit challenging the adequacy of the state’s …
REGIONAL— The Minnesota Court of Appeals has found that Ely-based Northeastern Minnesotans for Wilderness has the right to bring a lawsuit challenging the adequacy of the state’s non-ferrous mining rules.
The decision, issued Dec. 27, has no immediate effect, since a lower court had already decided in NMW’s favor and a process to review the state’s mining rules is already underway by the Department of Natural Resources as a result of the litigation. Twin Metals, a subsidiary of Chilean mining giant Antofagasta, had challenged NMW’s right, known as standing, to bring its challenge of the mining rules to court. Twin Metals has proposed to build a sulfide-based copper-nickel mine just upstream of the 1.1 million-acre Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.
NMW brought the case under the Minnesota Environmental Rights Act (MERA), contending that Minnesota’s mine siting rules would fail to protect the Boundary Waters from the toxic pollution common to sulfide-ore copper mining. The DNR had already agreed that NMW had met its burden of proof to trigger a review of the mining rules, and that review is currently in process. A public comment period on the adequacy of the rules closed Dec. 9. The appellate decision late last month will allow that process to continue.
“The Boundary Waters is a national and state treasure,” said Becky Rom, National Chair of the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters. “This strong legal decision by the Minnesota Court of Appeals clears the way for a much needed examination by the state of whether the nation’s most toxic industry should be allowed in the same watershed as America’s most visited wilderness.”
NMW asserts that the DNR siting rule should be amended to prohibit nonferrous mining in the Rainy River Headwaters altogether as the only way to protect the Boundary Waters from pollution, damage, or destruction.
With legal representation by Ciresi Conlin LLP, NMW challenged the state’s non-ferrous mining rules pursuant to Section 10 of the Minnesota Environmental Rights Act back in June. The lawsuit alleges that the current mining rules, adopted 29 years ago, would fail to protect the Boundary Waters and the Rainy River Headwaters. The current rules allow for sulfide-ore mining in the upstream half of the Rainy River Headwaters, next to and outside of the Boundary Waters. Polluted waters from sulfide-ore copper mining in the upstream half of the Rainy River Headwaters would flow directly into the Boundary Waters and also put at risk the downstream protected areas of the Quetico Provincial Park and Voyageurs National Park. This is the first-ever lawsuit of its kind brought under Section 10 of MERA (Minn. Stat. Chapter 116B.10).
At the federal level, the Biden Administration filed an application for a ban on mining on federal lands in the wilderness watershed and is currently reviewing multiple legal challenges to Twin Metals lease renewals. There is currently both state and federal legislation introduced that would permanently protect the Boundary Waters from the threat of sulfide-ore copper mining.
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