Lawsuit aims to prevent mining pollution near Boundary Waters Wilderness

Jun 25, 2018

The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, northern Minnesota, was protected as wilderness in 1964.

Alan Strakey, flickr

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.

Link to complaint: https://wilderness.org/sites/default/files/1%20Complaint%206-25-18.pdf  

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The Wilderness Society, founded in 1935, is the leading conservation organization working to protect wilderness and inspire Americans to care for our wild places. With more than one million members and supporters, The Wilderness Society has led the effort to permanently protect 109 million acres of wilderness and to ensure sound management of our shared national lands. www.wilderness.org   

Earthjustice, the nation’s premier nonprofit environmental law organization, wields the power of law and the strength of partnership to protect people’s health, to preserve magnificent places and wildlife, to advance clean energy, and to combat climate change. Because the earth needs a good lawyer. www.earthjustice.org

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.6 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places. www.biologicaldiversity.org

For nearly 100 years, the Izaak Walton League has fought for clean air and water, healthy fish and wildlife habitat, and conserving special places for future generations. Today, the League plays a unique role in supporting citizens locally and shaping conservation policy nationally. www.iwla.org

CONTACTS:

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

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

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

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