The operators of the planned Twin Metals mine near Ely are suing the federal government, after the Biden administration cancelled the leases for the copper-nickel operation in January.
Filed Monday, the suit is the latest volley in a long tussle over whether the sprawling underground hard-rock mine should be able to operate within the watershed of the federally protected Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.
In a complaint filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., a Twin Metals representative said the mine should be able to proceed through federal review.
"We are standing up for our right to a fair and consistent environmental review of our proposed mining project," wrote Dean DeBeltz, Twin Metals' director of operations, in a statement.
The suit names the Interior Department, the Bureau of Land Management and officials from those agencies, including Interior Secretary Debra Haaland. The plaintiffs are Twin Metals Minnesota — a subsidiary of Chilean mining giant Antofagasta — and Franconia Minerals, a subsidiary of Twin Metals.
Representatives of Interior and BLM declined to comment.
The lawsuit asks the court to set aside several federal decisions against the mine, declare that the leases are again valid and extend the time that Twin Metals has to secure permits and meet other milestones.
The leases for the mine were granted in 2019, under the administration of former President Donald Trump. But after Joe Biden took office in 2021, "the defendant officials within the Department of the Interior exacted a tightly coordinated set of unlawful actions targeting Twin Metals' rights and property interests," the lawsuit contends.
The hard-rock mine would be a novel operation in Minnesota though the state has a long history of extracting iron ore and taconite. The nickel, copper, cobalt, platinum and palladium that Twin Metals hopes to collect are in high demand for technologies like electric vehicles and solar panels.
Proponents of the mine argue it could bring jobs to nearby Ely. However, others worry that the mine's potential to harm the environment, dampening Boundary Waters tourism, could hurt the area's economy.
Hard-rock mining carries serious risks, such as sulfuric acid runoff that occurs when underground rocks that contain sulfides come into contact with air and water. Twin Metals said its mining methods would protect the environment from acid drainage.
Environmental groups like Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters, however, have pointed to research that has raised alarms about the harm underground metal mining could do to the sensitive boreal environment of northeast Minnesota.
"The Biden administration's actions to protect the Boundary Waters were well-considered, consistent with legal precedent and established public policy and reflect the will of Minnesotans and the American people," wrote Becky Rom, national chair of the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters, in a statement. "This lawsuit is destined to fail."