Lawsuit Aims to Prevent Mining Pollution near Boundary Waters Wilderness in Minnesota

The Department of Interior reinstates 50-year-old mining leases upstream of the Boundary Waters


Erin Whalen, Senior Associate Attorney, Earthjustice, (907) 500-7130

Alison Flint, High Profile Litigation Manager, The Wilderness Society, (303) 802-1404

Marc Fink, Senior Attorney, Center for Biological Diversity, (218) 464-0539

Scott Kovarovics, Izaak Walton League, (301) 548-0150, ext. 223

Today, The Wilderness Society, Center for Biological Diversity, and the Izaak Walton League of America, represented by Earthjustice, filed a lawsuit in federal district court in Washington, D.C., to prevent sulfide-ore mining at the edge of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in northeastern Minnesota. The organizations joined nine Minnesota businesses that filed a separate lawsuit last week to protect this cherished recreation area from mining.

Today’s suit challenges the Department of the Interior’s May 2018 decision to reinstate two long-expired federal mineral leases held by foreign-owned mining company Twin Metals Minnesota.  

The Boundary Waters is America’s most visited wilderness area. Explorers find refuge in its pristine waters and forested lands, which offer 1,200 miles of canoe routes and 18 hiking trails. The area also includes more than 1,000 lakes left by receding glaciers and hundreds of miles of streams.

The pollution resulting from sulfide-ore copper mining would inevitably harm the water quality and ecology of these protected public lands and waterways. The local economy — which is sustained by tourism and jobs connected to this fishing, canoeing, and camping mecca — would also suffer.

“Protected in the 1964 Wilderness Act, the Boundary Waters is one of America’s most beloved wilderness areas,” said Jamie Williams, president of The Wilderness Society. “Creating the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness was a promise to protect these interconnected lands and waters in their natural state for generations to come. Sulfide-ore mining on the edge of this iconic wilderness would replace a legacy of conservation and recreation with pollution and environmental degradation. This Interior Department continues to make mining and drilling the highest priority for our public lands, even when it threatens the nation’s wildest places.”

“The Interior Department’s attempt to reinstate leases that expired a year and a half ago is unlawful,” said Earthjustice attorney Erin Whalen, who is representing the groups. “The previous decision not to renew the leases came when the Forest Service, after a transparent public process, determined that mining would pose unacceptable risks to this world-class wilderness. Keeping this dangerous proposal alive is an end-run around that judicious conclusion, the Forest Service, and the public.”

“It’s unconscionable for the Interior Department to expedite a mining proposal just upstream from this iconic wilderness area,” said Marc Fink, senior attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity. “As we speak, the Forest Service is studying the risks of sulfide-ore copper mining within the Boundary Waters watershed.  Recklessly undercutting that crucial study could inflict irreparable damage.”

“The natural resources in and around the Boundary Waters are too important to put at risk from sulfide mining,” said Scott Kovarovics, executive director of the Izaak Walton League. “The Department of Interior has just amplified that risk by arbitrarily reversing its previous decision not to renew Twin Metals’ mineral leases.”

Last month, the Interior Department reinstated the two expired mineral leases, which date back to 1966. The decision paves the way for Twin Metals to build an industrial mining complex on the edge of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area.

On May 31, 170 businesses and outdoors organizations — including The Wilderness Society, Earthjustice, Center for Biological Diversity, and Izaak Walton League — sent letters to the U.S. Secretaries of Agriculture and Interior urging them to halt other mining-related approvals until a Forest Service study is completed. The Forest Service is conducting a comprehensive study of the risks of proposed sulfide-ore copper mining on public lands in the watershed of the Boundary Waters. 

Read the legal document.

Pose Lake in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness
Pose Lake in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. (Reid Priedhorsky / GFDL 1.2)

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