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Settlement reached in prospecting permit lawsuit

Biden administration agrees to conduct required environmental review

Marshall Helmberger
Posted 5/12/21

ELY- A coalition of environmental groups have reached a settlement with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management that requires the agency to revisit its decision to renew 13 prospecting permits near here. …

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Settlement reached in prospecting permit lawsuit

Biden administration agrees to conduct required environmental review

Posted

ELY- A coalition of environmental groups have reached a settlement with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management that requires the agency to revisit its decision to renew 13 prospecting permits near here. The permits could have allowed Antofagasta’s Twin Metals venture to significantly expand its proposed sulfide-ore copper mine just upstream of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.
The groups filed suit last year, challenging a four-year extension of the prospecting permits, which was done without required environmental review. To settle the lawsuit, the BLM has agreed to provide for public comment, conduct an analysis under the National Environmental Policy Act, consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service about the plan’s potential harm to endangered species, and then issue a new decision. The BLM also agreed to prohibit any ground-disturbing activities while it reconsiders its decision.
“After the horrendous years of the Trump administration, federal officials now appear focused on rational, science-based decision-making,” said Marc Fink, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “A thorough scientific analysis of these permits and Twin Metals’ related proposals will show that a massive copper-sulfide mine just upstream from the spectacular Boundary Waters wilderness is simply too great a risk. We’re confident this agreement will help lead to preserving this beloved place for future generations.”
These prospecting permits, along with the company’s two existing mineral leases, are part of Twin Metals’ attempt to create a mining district on the Superior National Forest, just upstream from the BWCAW.
“We are fundamentally opposed to the development of a toxic mining district in the watershed of the Boundary Waters,” said Tom Landwehr, executive director of Northeastern Minnesotans for Wilderness. “As determined by the U.S. Forest Service in 2016, this type of mining is not compatible with retaining the pure and wild ecosystem of the area. Today’s agreement is a step in the right direction in returning to good governance and fact-based decision-making.”
Twin Metals officials downplayed the significance of the settlement. “The 13 prospecting permits that are part of this agreement are not part of Twin Metals’ mine plan currently under review by state and federal regulators,” said company spokesperson Kathy Graul.
“Twin Metals Minnesota holds a variety of federal, state, and private mineral leases, as well as a number of prospecting permits on federal land in northeastern Minnesota. Prospecting permits allow the company to perform exploratory work on those sites to determine the existence of a valuable mineral deposit. Prospecting permits do not allow mining.”
Legal challenges to the reinstatement and renewal of Twin Metals’ actual mineral leases have been put on hold while the Biden administration determines how to ensure protection for the Boundary Waters. U.S. Sen. Tina Smith (D-Minn.) recently called on the administration to withdraw this area from mining while it conducts a comprehensive, science-based analysis of whether copper-sulfide ore can be safely mined in this watershed. In April, U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minn.)introduced a bill to permanently protect the watershed from copper mining.
“Today’s agreement is an important step in restoring proper, lawful process and informed decision-making concerning proposed copper mining on the doorstep of the Boundary Waters,” said Alison Flint, senior legal director at The Wilderness Society. “The Biden administration has a lot of work ahead to repair the damage of the last four years and must do what is necessary to protect this irreplaceable resource. We’re confident that the science will show this landscape is too precious and vulnerable for this type of mining.”
Under today’s agreement, the BLM will conduct a scientific ecological review of the potential harms from extending prospecting permits in this area, within the context of the related mineral leases and Twin Metals’ mine proposal. After the required environmental analysis and endangered species consultation, the Forest Service will have the authority to not consent to the permit extensions and the BLM, as regulator of the mineral estate, will have the authority to cancel them.
The 13 prospecting permits would have allowed Twin Metals to drill holes, build roads and do other mining exploratory work throughout more than 15,000 acres of Superior National Forest. The permits would greatly expand the location where Twin Metals has proposed a copper mine and waste piles just upstream from the Boundary Waters’ protected public lands and waterways.
Twin Metals’ mining proposal would cause severe environmental damage to the region’s forests, lakes, rivers and wetlands that lie between Birch Lake and the edge of the Boundary Waters. The Boundary Waters is America’s most-visited wilderness area.
Today’s agreement settles the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., by the Center for Biological Diversity, Northeastern Minnesotans for Wilderness and The Wilderness Society.

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