WASHINGTON, February 8, 2021 ----- Conservation groups who are challenging the Trump Administration’s 2019 decision to renew two hardrock mining leases held by Twin Metals Minnesota today filed a motion asking the court to include documents that were wrongly excluded from the case record by the Trump Justice Department. The records show the Forest Service was extensively lobbied by members of Congress who convinced the agency to waive its consent rights for future renewals of the leases.
Over the previous four years the Trump administration systematically rolled back Obama-Biden era protections for the watershed in order to advance a proposal by Twin Metals Minnesota – a subsidiary of a Chilean mining company – to develop a massive sulfide-ore copper mine in the headwaters of the Boundary Waters Wilderness and other downstream protected areas, including Voyageurs National Park and Canada’s Quetico Park. The case, The Wilderness Society v. Scott de la Vega, is currently before the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
As our nation’s most visited wilderness area, and the largest wilderness east of the Rockies and north of the Everglades, and only significant lakeland Wilderness, the Boundary Waters is the economic, ecological, and cultural engine of northeastern Minnesota. The Boundary Waters and associated outdoor recreation economy is responsible for 17,000 jobs and $900 million in annual economic activity for the region. The surrounding Superior National Forest contains 20 percent of the freshwater in the entire National Forest System and supports one of North America’s great fisheries.
“The Justice Department wrongly certified that the record was complete by failing to disclose why the Forest Service made a sudden about-face in 2019,” said Alison Flint, senior legal director for The Wilderness Society. “To build back better, agency decisions must be driven by sound science and the merits, not backroom lobbying.”
“To restore confidence in this process, we need to replace political deals with science and public participation and protect this unique wilderness that we have defended for nearly 100 years,” said Jared Mott, Conservation Director, Izaak Walton League of America.
While an agency can receive Congressional input, ultimately decisions must be made on the merits, not influence. In December 2016, after a thorough public process, the U.S. Forest Service found it was “incumbent” upon it to deny consent to the renewal of the leases, determining that mining on the leases could cause “irreparable” damage to the “irreplaceable” wilderness. In May 2019 under a different administration, it reversed course without explanation. Not only did the Forest Service allow renewal of the leases, but it agreed to a lease stipulation that prohibits it from exercising its statutory duty to exercise discretion in deciding whether to grant its consent to future lease renewals.
The plaintiffs argue the Forest Service’s unexplained about-face violated the Administrative Procedure Act because it was an arbitrary and capricious agency action driven by Congressional interference by Members of the Congressional Western Caucus who convinced the agency to step aside and allow the leases to be renewed and to tie its own hands going forward.
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 111 million acres of wilderness and to ensure sound management of our shared national lands. www.wilderness.org.
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 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
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
Alison Flint, The Wilderness Society, (303) 802-1404, firstname.lastname@example.org
Tony Iallonardo, The Wilderness Society, (202) 298-5469, email@example.com
Marc Fink, Center for Biological Diversity, (218) 464-0539, firstname.lastname@example.org
Rebecca Bowe, Earthjustice, (415) 217-2093, email@example.com
Michael Reinemer, Izaak Walton League of America, (703) 966-9574, firstname.lastname@example.org
Click here to read the original complaint filed in US District Court.