Robins Kaplan LLP Achieves Victory In Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness Pro Bono Matter

January 26, 2022

Robins Kaplan LLP is pleased to announce a significant victory in a legal challenge to the federal government’s renewal of two expired copper-nickel mining leases on land adjacent to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW). On Wednesday, the Biden administration announced the cancellation of the two leases, finding that they were improperly renewed under the administration of former President Donald Trump.

In 2018, Robins Kaplan filed a lawsuit on behalf of the Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, alleging that the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) reinstatement  of these expired mining leases will allow further exploration and development of a sulfide-ore copper-nickel mine that is incompatible with the wilderness character of the area. That lawsuit claims the BLM’s decision to reinstate the expired leases was arbitrary, capricious, contrary to law, and exceeded the government agency’s authority, while improperly disregarding a decision by the U.S. Forest Service to not consent to the lease renewal due to the inherent risk of damage from the proposed mine. In 2020, after the BLM completed the renewal of those leases, Robins Kaplan filed a second lawsuit claiming that the renewal was conducted without an adequate environmental review under improper political pressure from certain legislators.

On January 26, the Interior Department announced the cancellation of the mineral leases, based on a legal determination by its Solicitor General that the leases had been renewed in violation of multiple legal authorities, including by failing to recognize the Forest Service’s consent authority and failing to conduct an adequate environmental review. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland explained, “After a careful legal review, we found the leases were improperly renewed in violation of applicable statutes and regulations, and we are taking action to cancel them.”    

“The Interior Department’s action heralds a complete victory in our long-running effort to preserve and protect the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness,” said partner Steve Safranski, counsel to the Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness. “We are proud to have partnered with the Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness to ensure the future of this area which has been a national ecological treasure and an iconic destination in Minnesota for generations.” This decision was hailed by Minnesota Congresswoman Betty McCollum as a “monumental victory for the Boundary Waters.”

Protected by federal law for more than 100 years, and now by federal statute, the BWCAW is the largest wilderness area east of the Rocky Mountains. It is renowned for its water quality and provides an abundant habitat for thousands of species of wildlife, including three threatened or endangered species, and offers opportunities for ecological studies and exceptional wilderness experiences. The National Geographic Society recognized the BWCAW as one of the planet’s “50 Places of a Lifetime.”

Robins Kaplan partners Richard Allyn and Bryan Mechell and counsel Eric Barstad and staff attorney Siobhan Jamsa also represented the Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness in this case.

Stephen P. Safranski

Partner

Co-Chair, Antitrust and Trade Regulation Group

Siobhan M. Jamsa

Staff Attorney

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