Appeals court says group can sue over Minnesota mining rules

Trees grow along the shoreline of the Kawishiwi River.
The shoreline of the Kawishiwi River Wednesday, June 12, 2019 near Ely, Minn. Twin Metals is proposing to build an underground copper-nickel mine near Ely, Minn. and close to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.
Derek Montgomery for MPR News File

A Minnesota appellate court affirmed Monday that a wilderness advocacy group has standing to challenge state rules restricting copper mining sites.

The ruling means that Northeastern Minnesotans for Wilderness' efforts to block a proposed copper mine near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness can continue.

Minnesota's 29-year-old nonferrous mining siting rules prohibit mines in the Boundary Waters but allow them along waters that flow into the popular outdoors getaway. The wilderness group filed a lawsuit in June 2020 arguing the rules should be amended to prohibit mining along waters that flow into the area as well.

The lawsuit is designed to block Twin Metals Minnesota's plans for a massive copper-nickel mine in the Rainy River Headwaters. The wilderness group fears run-off from the mine would flow north into the Boundary Waters.

Twin Metals Minnesota asked a lower court judge to dismiss the case on grounds that the wilderness group hasn't shown that the mine would harm it and therefore lacks legal standing to sue. That judge refused the request and directed the state Department of Natural Resources to begin reviewing the rules.

The mining company appealed, again arguing that the wilderness group lacks standing because it failed to allege an imminent injury. But appellate Judge Michael Kirk wrote that Minnesota environmental law doesn't require an injury to sue and instead grants broad standing to file challenges.

Twin Metals Minnesota attorney Peter Larson didn't immediately respond to a message Monday afternoon.

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