REGIONAL— Twin Metals Minnesota made it clear this week that they intend to fight to reclaim two federal mineral leases critical to their plans to build a copper-nickel mine southeast of Ely.
The company, controlled by Chilean copper mining giant Antofagasta, announced on Monday that they have filed a lawsuit against the Biden administration asking the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C. to overturn the administration’s decision to cancel the two federal leases, among other actions.
In a related step, the company filed a notice of related case, in hopes of airing their lawsuit before the same Trump-appointed judge, Trevor McFadden, who had earlier ruled in the company’s favor. Normally, new cases are assigned randomly to judges in a pool.
Twin Metals, in a statement issued Monday, accused the Biden Interior Department of canceling its leases illegally. “In doing so, the agency contradicted the position it asserted and successfully defended in a federal court just four years ago,” wrote the company in its statement. “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,” added the company.
“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. “Our plan is backed by decades of exploration and analysis and is rooted in the most environmentally sophisticated design, which is tailored for our project location and mineral deposit. It deserves a fair evaluation by federal regulators based on its merits.”
In a 45-page brief that Twin Metals filed with the court on Monday, the company cites the company’s roughly half-billion-dollar investment in exploration and mine plan development and the country’s need for the minerals Twin Metals proposes to mine. It also cites the jobs the mine would create and criticizes opponents of the mine for lobbying in Washington, an action that Twin Metals has repeatedly undertaken itself.
In legal arguments, the 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 lease.
Jorjani, who had previously worked for a Koch brothers-funded legal foundation, was infamous during his three and a half-year stint at the Interior Department for reinterpreting a slew of longstanding legal positions that had been taken by Interior on matters ranging from native rights to the protection of migrating birds. Jorjani’s opinions regularly put the interests of industry above those of other stakeholders on issues affecting land management.
Interior Solicitor Bob Anderson, an Ely native, told the Timberjay late last year that one of his motivating factors for accepting Interior’s top legal post was to undo some of the damage that the previous administration, and Jorjani in particular, had done to the federal land management through his many reinterpretations of law.
Supporters of the Twin Metals mine expressed support for the company’s lawsuit and their efforts to revive their mining proposal.
The group Jobs for Minnesotans, in a statement, said Twin Metals has a right to a fair review of their project. “We are extremely disappointed by the series of seemingly politically motivated federal actions to kill their project over the last 10 months. These actions set a dangerous precedent. They are an attack on all mining in northeast Minnesota, jeopardize domestic access to critical clean energy minerals and are an affront to the people of northeast Minnesota who have proudly and responsibly developed natural resources for generations.”
Opponents of the mine proposal saw it differently and questioned the merits of the suit. “I see no credible lawsuit here,” said Becky Rom, chair of the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters, the leading organization to oppose the mine. “The Biden administration was being utterly consistent on the lease renewals. Every other previous administration, before Trump, had determined that the lease renewals were discretionary once they failed to start mining within the first 20 years,” she said.