Judge Tosses Twin Metals Lawsuit, Halting Mine’s Threat to Boundary Waters


The federal court sided with government and with intervenors represented by Earthjustice


Timna Axel, Earthjustice taxel@earthjustice.org, (773) 828-0712

In a major win for conservation groups, a federal judge yesterday dismissed a complaint brought by Twin Metals that would have forced the Biden administration to renew two mining leases that threaten Minnesota’s Boundary Waters Wilderness Area. Over a dozen businesses and organizations, including three conservation groups represented by Earthjustice, intervened in the lawsuit to defend the Biden administration’s actions. The judge agreed with the government and intervening groups that Twin Metals failed to raise a proper claim and that the court did not have jurisdiction to hear the case, dismissing the lawsuit in full.

“This is an important victory for our clients and their longstanding efforts to protect the Boundary Waters from the threats of Twin Metals’ reckless mining proposal,” said Earthjustice Senior Associate Attorney Adam Ratchenski. “The Midwest’s most precious and irreplaceable wilderness is now free from the shadow of this toxic mine.”

“Yesterday’s decision rightfully upholds the Biden Administration’s actions to protect our nation’s most visited wilderness area by ending the threat of sulfide-ore mining on unlawfully renewed 60-year-old leases by the previous administration,” said Alison Flint, Senior Legal Director at The Wilderness Society.

“This ruling underscores the importance of preserving the integrity of our natural landscapes and affirms the government’s authority to act in their defense. It’s a significant step towards safeguarding the Boundary Waters from pollution linked to extractive development, addressing the extinction crisis, and advancing the Biden administration’s America The Beautiful conservation goals. We’re thrilled by this victory and will continue to advocate for permanent protection of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness watershed.”

The lawsuit was brought in August 2022 by Twin Metals, a subsidiary of the Chilean mining conglomerate Antofagasta that has long sought to develop a sulfide-ore copper mine on the Boundary Waters’ doorstep. Twin Metals’ applications to renew its federal leases had been rejected by the Bureau of Land Management under the Obama administration. The leases were wrongfully reinstated and renewed under the Trump administration, and then finally cancelled in January 2022 under Biden. Twin Metals filed a lawsuit eight months later to challenge that cancellation and other federal actions that thwarted its hopes to construct a mine.

Sulfide-ore mining is an inherently dangerous and risky type of mining because it produces sulfuric acid, which can contaminate waterways with dangerous acidic leachate, sulfate, and heavy metals. That pollution could irreparably damage the uniquely interconnected network of more than 1,000 lakes and 1,200 miles of rivers and streams that comprise the Boundary Waters.

Earthjustice represented The Center for Biological Diversity, The Wilderness Society, and Izaak Walton League of America in the case. The groups intervened in May, after the Biden administration announced the withdrawal of over 200,000 acres of lands in the Boundary Waters watershed from mineral leasing for the next 20 years.

“We’re immensely proud of our collective efforts to defend the Boundary Waters from toxic mining,” said Earthjustice Senior Legislative Representative Blaine Miller-McFeeley. “We will keep at it until Congress makes these protections truly permanent.”

Canoeing the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in Northern Minnesota.
Canoeing the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in Northern Minnesota. (Brad Zweerink / Earthjustice)

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