Twin Metals Lease Renewal

TWIN METALS LEASE RENEWAL

 

The Duluth (mineral) Complex underlies a significant portion of the Superior National Forest (SNF). This mineral deposit contains copper, nickel, lead, zinc, cobalt, chromium, iron, titanium, platinum, palladium, silver, gold and other associated metals (also known as hard-rock or non-ferrous minerals). Twin Metals Minnesota LLC (TMM), a multinational company, has announced their intent to develop a mine and processing plant. In order for the mine proposal to move forward the company’s two current leases (MNES-01352 and MNES-01353) with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) must be renewed (Vicnity Map/Detailed Map)

On June 6, 2016 the U.S. Forest Service (FS) received a request from the BLM that the FS provide, in writing, a decision on whether it consents or does not consent to the renewal of the leases that TMM currently holds. The leases are located within the same watershed as the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW) on the Superior National Forest.  As the surface managing agency, the FS has regulatory authority to grant or deny consent to lease renewals within national forest boundaries in Minnesota (16 U.S.C. § 508b, 60 Stat. 1099). BLM regulations at 43 C.F.R part 3500 require FS consent to the BLM prior to issuing permits or leases. This grants FS discretion to determine if permits or leases are within the best interest of the public and whether surface resources can be adequately protected.

In December 2016, the Chief of the Forest Service sent the BLM a letter denying consent for the renewal of two mineral leases adjacent to the Boundary Waters. Subsequently, the Bureau of Land Management notified the lease applicant, Twin Metals Minnesota, that their leases would not be renewed.

In December 2017, the United States Department of the Interior’s Office of the Solicitor issued a new legal opinion concluding that TMM has a non-discretionary right to a third renewal of its two hardrock mining leases.  This new opinion reversed and replaced a prior opinion on the topic which was issued in March 2016. 

Under the new legal opinion, the BLM will work together with the FS to reconsider a 2016 decision in which the BLM denied Twin Metals’ pending lease renewal application.  The agencies will conduct the appropriate environmental analysis under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) to make a final agency decision on the application and to identify appropriate terms and conditions for surface protection. 

Interior’s Office of the Solicitor Opinions are available on the USDI website.