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Judge rejects Twin Metals plea to hear lease case

Marshall Helmberger
Posted 12/15/22

REGIONAL— A Twin Metals legal gambit proved a dry hole this past week with the ruling by a federal judge rejecting the company’s plea that he hear their case challenging the Biden …

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Judge rejects Twin Metals plea to hear lease case


REGIONAL— A Twin Metals legal gambit proved a dry hole this past week with the ruling by a federal judge rejecting the company’s plea that he hear their case challenging the Biden administration’s decision to cancel its mineral leases.
Judge Trevor McFadden, a conservative Trump appointee, had ruled in favor of Twin Metals back in 2020, when he found that the Trump administration had acted within its authority when it restored two federal minerals critical for the company’s hopes to build a copper-nickel mine near Ely. That case had been filed by a coalition of Ely area businesses and environmental groups.
McFadden might have had a sympathetic ear for Twin Metals’ arguments then, but in a Dec. 9 ruling, McFadden soundly rejected the company’s request that he hear their new case challenging the Biden administration’s reinstatement of a previous cancellation of the leases instituted under the Obama administration.
As McFadden noted in his three-page order, cases filed with the court are supposed to be randomly assigned to judges within the district in which they’re filed. “The rule guarantees fair and equal distribution of cases to all judges, avoids public perception or appearance of favoritism in assignments, and reduces opportunities for judge-shopping,” the judge wrote.
McFadden noted that under certain rare circumstances, such as when all the parties to a case are identical to one previously heard and relate to the same subject matter, a new case can be assigned to the same judge who heard the case before. But as McFadden pointed out, the parties and the subject matter of Twin Metals’ lawsuit are substantially different. “The mere presence of overlapping parties is not among the bases for a related-case designation,” he concluded.
Instead, the case has now been assigned to Judge Christopher Cooper, an Obama appointee who has sat on the D.C. circuit court since 2014. Cooper will now hear Twin Metals’ claim that the Biden administration acted improperly when it canceled its two federal mineral leases. “The lawsuit seeks to restore the leases and other rights, which will restart the environmental review process as required by law for the company’s mine plan,” stated the company in a press statement issued in August when it filed its case. “We are standing up for our right to a fair and consistent environmental review of our proposed mining project,” said Dean DeBeltz, Twin Metals’ Director of Operations. 
The Twin Metals’ suit alleges that the Biden administration engaged in arbitrary and unauthorized decision-making when Interior Department Deputy Solicitor Ann Marie Bledsoe Downes overturned a Trump-era legal opinion issued by then-Interior Solicitor Daniel Jorjani. Jorjani had determined that Twin Metals had an absolute right to three ten-year renewals under the original lease. Twin Metals was seeking the third and final of those permit renewals when the Obama administration canceled the leases in 2016.
Jorjani’s opinion, issued in 2017, overturned previous opinions issued by Interior legal counsel from the Reagan, Bush, and Obama administrations, which had all determined that any lease renewal was discretionary on the part of the Interior Department. Based on Jorjani’s opinion, the Trump administration argued it had no choice but to reinstate the leases that the Obama administration had canceled.
In reversing Jorjani, the Biden administration was largely consistent with the view of previous administrations, based on the language in the original 1966 leases, which appeared to condition any right of renewal on the start of mining operations within the first 20-year term of the leases. Yet no mining operation has gotten underway in the more than 50 years since the leases were originally issued.
While the Dec. 9 McFadden decision wasn’t a surprise given the federal rules at issue, it was a blow to Twin Metals’ efforts to have their case heard by a potentially more sympathetic judge.


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