Antofagasta loses bid to revive Minnesota copper-nickel project

Credit: Twin Metals

A US judge has rejected a bid by a subsidiary of Chilean mining company Antofagasta Plc to restore canceled mineral leases for a proposed $1.7 billion Minnesota copper and nickel mine, which the Biden administration had blocked over concerns it could pollute a major recreational waterway.

US District Judge Christopher Cooper in Washington, DC, on Wednesday dismissed Twin Metals’ 2022 lawsuit, which challenged the US Interior Department’s decision earlier that year to cancel leases for an underground mine near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. The project would have been one of the biggest US sources of metals needed to build electric vehicle batteries and other clean energy technologies.

The Interior Department canceled the leases and other mining approvals after determining they were illegally renewed despite US Forest Service objections related to concerns that mining could pollute the wilderness’s streams and lakes with potentially toxic waste.

Cooper said his court lacks jurisdiction over Twin Metals’ claims under the Administrative Procedure Act, because the rights allegedly violated by the government stem from the terms of its leasing contract with the US government – not procedural legal rights outlined in that law. He said the claims should have been brought under the Tucker Act, which allows parties to sue the US over contractual disputes involving the government.

An Interior Department spokesperson on Thursday declined to comment, and a spokesperson for Twin Metals did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The company said in its August 2022 lawsuit that it had spent hundreds of millions of dollars to develop a “state-of-the-art, environmentally sound mine.” It said the Biden administration’s decision to cancel the leases was arbitrary and capricious, and ignored the need to carefully balance environmental concerns with the need for critical mineral development.

Stephen Safranski, an attorney who represented the environmental group Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness – which intervened to defend the government’s decision alongside more than a dozen environmental groups and recreational businesses – said the “decision is a victory for Minnesota’s ecological crown jewel and an important milestone in ending a grave threat to the Boundary Waters.”

The leases were first granted in 1966 and have been passed along to successor companies over the years, though no mining has taken place on the site.

Twin Metals acquired the leases in 2011 and sought to renew them in 2012 but that request was denied in 2016 after the Obama administration determined it had discretion to deny the renewal since no mining had actually started.

The Trump administration reversed course and renewed the leases in 2019, which the Biden administration canceled in 2022.

(By Clark Mindock)


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