In the Matter of the Petition for an Environmental Assessment Worksheet for the 33rd Sale of State Metallic Leases in Aitkin, Lake, and Saint Louis Counties, Minnesota
Minnesota Department of Natural Resources
Paula Goodman Maccabee, Just Change Law Offices, St. Paul, Minnesota (for relator Matthew Tyler)
Lori Swanson, Attorney General, Alan I. Gilbert, Solicitor General, Jill Schlick Nguyen, Assistant Attorney General, St. Paul, Minnesota (for respondent commissioner of natural resources)
Byron E. Starns, Matthew D. Melewski, Leigh K. Currie, Leonard, Street, & Deinard, P.A., Minneapolis, Minnesota (for intervenors DMC (USA) LLC and Encampment Minerals)
John A. Knapp, Thomas H. Boyd, Brent A. Lorentz, Winthrop & Weinstine, P.A., Minneapolis, Minnesota (for amicus Mining Minnesota)
Considered and decided by Worke, Presiding Judge; Rodenberg, Judge; and Smith, Judge.
The state's sale of mineral leases does not by itself trigger environmental-review requirements under the Minnesota Environmental Protection Act and related rules because the leases do not contemplate definite, on-the-ground physical changes to the environment. Environmental-review requirements may be triggered in the future by more specific exploration plans for property leased as a result of the sale.
Relator challenges a decision by respondent Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) not to require preparation of an environmental assessment worksheet (EAW) in connection with the sale of mineral leases, arguing that the DNR erred when it concluded that the lease sale does not constitute a project and thus does not trigger environmental-review requirements. We affirm.
This case arises out of the State of Minnesota's intent to lease its mineral interests in certain real property. A mineral interest encompasses the "right to search for, develop, and remove minerals from land or to receive a royalty based on the production of minerals." Black's Law Dictionary 1084 (9th ed. 2009). "A mineral interest may be severed from, and exist as a fee interest independent of, a surface estate." Pillandco, Inc. v. State, 718 N.W.2d 470, 472 n.1 (Minn.App. 2006) (citing Wichelman v. Messner, 250 Minn. 88, 102–03, 83 N.W.2d 800, 814 (1957)). "Severed mineral interests exist in much of Minnesota and are especially common in northeastern Minnesota." St. Louis Cnty. v. Fed. Land Bank of St. Paul, 338 N.W.2d 741, 742 (Minn. 1983).
Although most surface and mineral rights are privately held, the state owns some mineral interests. By law, the state retains the mineral rights whenever it conveys real property. Minn. Stat. §§ 16B.286, 93.01 (2012). Thus, when a private party purchases land from the state, a severed estate results in those cases where the state had mineral rights for the parcel. Minn. Stat. §§ ...