Judge weighs motion to dismiss Twin Metals mining lawsuit

Government lawyers asked a federal judge Tuesday to dismiss a lawsuit by developers of the proposed Twin Metals copper-nickel mine who are seeking to regain their mineral rights leases, arguing that their dispute belongs in a different court.

The Obama administration last December declined to renew the long-standing leases that Twin Metals Minnesota needs for the underground mine it wants to build in northeastern Minnesota. At the time, the government cited the potential for irreparable harm to the nearby Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness from acid mine drainage.

Twin Metals sued to get those leases back, saying it has already invested $400 million in the project. The company’s congressional supporters, meanwhile, are trying both to persuade the Trump administration and to pass legislation to reverse the lease decision. They’re also trying to undo a related decision that imposed at least a two-year moratorium on minerals exploration in a watershed that flows into the Boundary Waters, including the Twin Metals site southeast of Ely.

Sean Duffy, an attorney for the Bureau of Land Management and other federal agencies involved, urged U.S. District Judge Susan Richard Nelson to dismiss the lawsuit, arguing that it’s a contract dispute that under federal law can be brought only in the Court of Federal Claims. He also argued that the government had the discretion to refuse to automatically renew the leases.

But Twin Metals lawyer Daniel Volchok framed the case as a property rights dispute that the district court has the jurisdiction to hear. He said no rational prospector would undertake the huge investment of time and money necessary to develop a mine if its mineral rights weren’t secure. He said the government was obligated to…

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