Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

Judge extends deadline for legal arguments in Twin Metals lease case

Marshall Helmberger
Posted 2/21/19

REGIONAL— The recent partial federal government shutdown has prompted a federal district court judge to provide more time for all parties in the ongoing litigation over the Trump administration’s …

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Judge extends deadline for legal arguments in Twin Metals lease case

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REGIONAL— The recent partial federal government shutdown has prompted a federal district court judge to provide more time for all parties in the ongoing litigation over the Trump administration’s decision to reinstate cancelled mineral leases for the proposed Twin Metals copper-nickel project near Ely.

Plaintiffs in the case, including the Voyageurs Outward Bound School and several other northeastern Minnesota businesses, Friends of the Boundary Waters, and the Wilderness Society, will now have until March 8 to submit their joint legal arguments for summary judgment in the case. The federal government defendants will now have until April 5 to respond.

In an order issued Feb. 8, Judge Trevor McFadden stated that he was extending the timeline “in the interest of ensuring that each party to this action has a fair opportunity to present its case and is not prejudiced by the stay that resulted from the lapse of appropriations,” during the shutdown.

By moving towards summary judgment, the parties in the case will avoid the time and expense of a trial. Instead, the judge will make his decision based on the administrative record and legal arguments submitted by the parties. Based on the latest timeline laid out by Judge McFadden, a decision in the case could be issued as soon as this fall.

At issue is the May 2, 2018, decision by then Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to renew two federal mineral leases located along the South Kawishiwi River. Both the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management under President Obama had denied renewal of the leases in December 2016, a decision that had all but halted work on the Twin Metals mine proposal being advanced by Chilean mining giant Antofagasta.

But the Interior Department’s legal counsel Daniel Jorjani, a former counsel to the Charles Koch Foundation, issued an opinion late last year that argued that the Obama Interior Department had committed “legal error” in determining that the department had the authority to deny renewal of the leases. Jorjani argued that the federal government had no choice but to renew the claims given the language in the original leases, first issued to the International Nickel Company in 1966. Those leases allowed for three ten-year renewals, but added: “unless at the end of the primary term of this lease, the Lessee shall not have begun production.”

Because INCO never began production, legal counsel for both the Reagan and Obama administrations had determined that renewal was discretionary and those opinions, along with concerns about environmental impacts, formed the legal basis for the 2016 decision to deny a third renewal. Mine opponents say that denial is a final decision, and that the Interior Department has no authority to simply reinstate cancelled mineral leases nearly a year and a half later.

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