Mining Firm Sues Feds |to Protect Mineral Rights

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     (CN) – A Minnesota-based mining company says the U.S. Bureau of Land Management has no choice but to renew its lease for mineral rights on land located within a national forest.
     Twin Metals Minnesota, and its affiliate Franconia Minerals, sued the agency, a division of the Interior Department, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota on Monday.
     The lawsuit follows the bureau’s issuing a binding opinion that the department did not have to renew the lease to access copper, nickel and platinum-group metals inside Superior National Forest on the border between Minnesota and Canada.
     Twin Metals’ predecessor company leased the mining rights to the land in 1966 for an initial period of 20 years, with what the lawsuit says is an unlimited number of chances to renew it for 10 years at a time undisputed.
     The land in question contains an estimated $40 billion in minerals and is “one of the largest untapped copper and nickel resources in the world,” according to the complaint.
     Over five decades Twin Metals and its predecessors have renewed the lease twice, in 1986 and 2004, and sunk about $400 million into the project.
     The company says the money was used “to explore for and then develop the vital hardrock minerals — metals of great importance to the U.S. economy and national defense.”
     Congress enacted mining laws to authorize and encourage prospecting and mining in the Superior National Forest in 1950, says the lawsuit.
     Unlimited lease options to any land where minerals are discovered is “a reward for the challenges associated with hardrock mineral development,” Twin Metals claims, a job that is “inherently risky, time-consuming and expensive.”
     Although no actual mining projects have begun in the area, Twin Metals says that its 2013 renewal application for the lease “attracted the attention of certain environmental organizations opposed to mining in northeastern Minnesota,” putting “political pressure” on the bureau to deny it.
     In a press release announcing a series of meetings to gauge public opinion on the issue, the bureau said it is “deeply concerned” by the land’s location within the same watershed as the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, a primitive protected area.
     The agency said it worries about the potential effects active mining operations could have “water quantity and quality, contamination from acid mine drainage, and seepage of tailings water, tailings basing failure and waste rock treatment locations.”
     A spokesperson for the bureau said the agency does not comment on pending lawsuits, but nothing has changed since its June statement.
     Twin Metals says it aims to stop the federal government’s “unlawful evisceration of [its] established property rights” and is suing under the Quiet Title Act.
     Doresey & Whitney LLP, in Minneapolis, and Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr LLP, in Washington, D.C. and Denver, are representing the plaintiffs.