News release: DNR to Review Siting Rule for Nonferrous Mines

October 4, 2021

Today, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) filed a Procedural Order in Ramsey County District Court outlining the process the department will use to review Minnesota’s siting rule for nonferrous mines.

The Procedural Order describes how the DNR will seek public comment and make a decision on whether the state’s existing nonferrous mine siting rule (Minnesota Rule 6132.2000 Subparts 2A and 3A) is adequate to protect the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW) from pollution, impairment or destruction from potential mining within the Rainy River Headwaters watershed. The DNR will accept public comments on the adequacy of the siting rule from November 9, 2021 through December 8, 2021.

On June 24, 2020, Northeastern Minnesotans for Wilderness (NEMW), sued the DNR under the Minnesota Environmental Rights Act. NEMW claims in its lawsuit that Minnesota’s longstanding nonferrous mine siting rule is inadequate to protect the BWCAW. Specifically, NEMW asserts that Minnesota Rule 6132.2000 (Subparts 2A and 3A) should prohibit nonferrous metallic mineral mining (e.g., copper-nickel mining) in the entirety of the Rainy River Headwaters watershed, which flows into the BWCAW. Currently, the rule prohibits mining in the BWCAW and prohibits mining that disturbs the surface in a specified area around the BWCAW.

At the DNR’s request, the Court issued a September 13, 2021 order sending the case back to the DNR for further proceedings. This approach allows the DNR, as the state’s primary regulatory authority for mining, to assess the adequacy of the siting rule through a robust administrative process that ensures agency experts have an opportunity to carefully consider all relevant evidence.  The Procedural Order issued today outlines how DNR will seek public comment on the following question:

With express consideration of how Minn. R. 6132.2000, subp. 2A and subp. 3A fit within the broader context of all applicable environmental protection in state and federal law regulating nonferrous mining, are the exclusion of mining in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW) set forth in Minn. R. 6132.2000 subp. 2A, and the prohibition of surface disturbance in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness Mineral Management Corridor as set forth in Minn. R. 6132.2000, subp. 3A adequate to protect the BWCAW from pollution, impairment, or destruction or should further restrictions on mining be extended to all or part of the Rainy River- Headwaters defined as HUC 09030001?

As described in the Procedural Order, the DNR will seek substantive public comments from November 9, 2021 through December 8, 2021 to assist the department in its decision making.  Since this comment period is associated with a court approved process, the comment period will be limited to 30 days; however, interested parties may begin to develop their comments prior to the opening of the comment period.

The DNR has established a dedicated webpage for DNR’s review of the siting rule. This webpage will be used to house information about the review process and contains a link to sign up for future GovDelivery emails on this topic. The DNR will use the GovDelivery list to announce the start of the public comment period on November 9, 2021.