Interior Officials Secretly Met with Environmental Plaintiffs in Critical Minerals Project They Later Cancelled

Lobbyists from The Wilderness Society brainstormed “legal and policy pathways” with DOI lawyers on Twin Metals.

(Washington, DC) – Government watchdog Functional Government Initiative (FGI) has released recently obtained records showing coordination between the lead plaintiff challenging the nation’s largest critical minerals project and senior Department of the Interior (DOI) policymakers and lawyers. Perhaps most notable is the high-level policy meeting involving lobbyists from The Wilderness Society (TWS), the plaintiff in the controversial Twin Metals case, and Deputy Secretary Tommy Beaudreau and Deputy Chief of Staff Kate Kelly. The previously undisclosed meeting is noticeably absent from Beaudreau’s public calendars.

Since January 2021, DOI has taken several steps to unwind the prior administration’s policy and litigation position regarding a major critical minerals deposit in Minnesota. On January 26, 2022, DOI announced it was canceling two hard rock mineral leases held by Twin Metals Minnesota, a mining company operating in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. Secretary Haaland’s action imposes a 20-year moratorium on mining on the approximately 225,000 acres of forest upstream from the wilderness.

Records recently obtained by FGI show meetings taking place in mid-2021 involving members of DOI leadership (Beaudreau and Kelly) at the same time TWS sought to coordinate with one of Interior’s top lawyers, Deputy Solicitor Natalie Landreth. The emails also show the officials were aware of the potential landmines associated with holding behind-the-scenes meetings on a controversial matter in active litigation without all sides present. The apparent workaround was a hodgepodge of mixed participation in certain meetings and labeling some meetings “policy” meetings. Remarkably, in the meeting between DOI lawyers and TWS, the attendees planned to “discuss some of the legal & policy pathways for protecting the Boundary waters watershed.” This would almost certainly walk right up to the line or over it given the issue being intimately wrapped up in a highly charged and complex active litigation. TWS later dropped its lawsuit after the DOI’s announcement of the lease cancellations.

DOI leadership likely understood that hosting the meetings looked ethically suspect as Deputy Secretary Beaudreau’s available public calendars curiously do not have the July 2021 meeting with TWS. Whether any other secret meetings were planned or held between DOI officials and plaintiffs in the Twin Metals case remains an open question that FGI continues to investigate.

Peter McGinnis, spokesman for FGI, issued the following statement:

“The American public should be concerned when senior government officials and lobbyists of plaintiffs are not reporting meetings that appear to influence active litigation and major policy decisions. More concerning may be a meeting with DOI lawyers to brainstorm ‘legal and policy pathways’ without opposing counsel and DOJ lawyers present. They appear to be throwing caution to the wind to advance their preferred policy position and those of their special interest friend, which just happens to be the former employer of several of Haaland’s senior political appointees.”