An environmental group opposed to copper-nickel mining has sued the Trump administration for all correspondence between the company trying to open a mine near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and the federal agency that controls its leases.
On Tuesday, Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness filed a complaint in U.S. District Court in Minnesota alleging the U.S. Bureau of Land Management "ignored" requests it made under the Freedom of Information Act for documents shared between the agency and Twin Metals, the company hoping to open a copper-nickel mine in the same watershed as the BWCAW. The agency has since been "stonewalling access to the public record," the group said in a news release.
The group is hoping to shine a light on what it took for the Trump administration to return federal mining leases to Twin Metals in December 2017, reversing the Obama-era decision. In 2016, the Obama administration rescinded Twin Metals' mineral leases during Obama's final days in office as the U.S. Department of Agriculture said it was too close to the BWCAW.
"Public lands and the public record are just that, public," Chris Knopf, executive director of Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness, said in a news release Tuesday. "Closing off access to information is an affront to transparency and the democratic process."
Twin Metals spokesperson Kathy Graul responded to the lawsuit In an emailed statement to the News Tribune on Tuesday.
"Twin Metals has never opposed the release of public data or information," Graul said.
The Bureau of Land Management did not respond to a request for comment by the News Tribune on Tuesday.
Twin Metals, owned by Chilean mining conglomerate Antofagasta, is hoping to build a large underground copper-nickel mine and dry-stacked tailings storage facility near Ely and Birch Lake, within the Rainy River Watershed and 5 miles from the BWCAW. Critics say the project could send tainted runoff into the BWCAW, while supporters say the mine would bring much-needed jobs to the region.
Other groups have filed similar lawsuits.
Last year, watchdog group American Oversight sued the Trump administration for documents related to the mining leases returned to Twin Metals. Specifically, it was hoping to uncover if the lease decision was influenced by the fact that President Donald J. Trump's daughter Ivanka Trump and son-in-law Jared Kushner are renting a Washington home owned by Chilean billionaire Andronico Luksic, whose family controls Antofagasta, the Chilean global mining giant that owns a 100% interest in the Twin Metals.
Twin Metals submitted its formal project proposal to regulators in December, beginning a yearslong federal and state review process.