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Biden administration delivers serious blow to Minnesota mine, both sides react

Twin Metals Mining
Twin Metals Mining(CBS 3 Duluth)
Published: Nov. 1, 2021 at 7:07 PM CDT
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Ely, Minnesota (CBS 3 Duluth) -- The Biden administration has dealt a serious blow to the proposed Twin Metals copper-nickel mine on the edge of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area in northeastern Minnesota.

The government ordered a study Wednesday that could lead to a 20-year ban on mining upstream from the wilderness.

The administration says it has filed an application for a “mineral withdrawal.”

It would begin with a comprehensive study of the likely environmental and other impacts of mining if it were permitted upstream from the Boundary Waters.

The Obama administration tried to end the project when it launched a similar process, but the Trump administration reversed that decision.

In a statement Wednesday morning, Twin Metals Minnesota spokespeople said the company is “deeply disappointed” with the news.

“We are working to determine the best path forward to continue advancing our proposed world-class underground copper, nickel, cobalt and platinum group metals mine,” Twin Metals spokespeople wrote. “We are firmly dedicated to the communities of northeast Minnesota and to advancing a sustainable mining project that will bring much-needed economic growth to our region, in addition to the opportunity to responsibly develop the critical minerals needed for our global efforts in combatting the climate crisis. Twin Metals’ mineral rights span 11 presidential administrations, and we remain steadfast in upholding those rights and advancing our model mining project.”

Reaction also poured in from Minnesota lawmakers on both sides of the aisle Wednesday morning.

Rep. Pete Stauber, a republican who represents much of the Northland at the nation’s capitol, said in a statement that this is not good news for union members and working families across northeast Minnesota.

“Rather than promoting the dignity of work, they’re comfortable seeing Minnesota’s union members and skilled workers sidelined,” Stauber wrote. “Instead of empowering Minnesotans to develop the minerals necessary for almost every sector of our economy under the strongest labor and environmental standards in the world, they are willing to rely on hostile nations that utilize child slave labor and terrible environmental practices. This decision is unacceptable on every level, and I will not stop until it has been reversed,” said Stauber.

Meanwhile, Rep. Rob Ecklund, a DFL lawmaker representing the International Falls area, said “a fair environmental and regulatory review process for the Twin Metals project should be allowed to proceed without undue delays or interference.”

In a statement, he continued, “The roadmap announced today is duplicative, unnecessary, and arbitrary, preventing us from even considering the project and its potential to boost our regional economy. Transitioning to more carbon-free energy sources to fight climate change will require vast resources of copper, nickel, platinum, and cobalt, which are materials bountifully available in northern Minnesota, the sourcing of which could create hundreds of skilled union jobs. Like any proposal of this magnitude, Twin Metals will be studied and scrutinized, along with a substantial opportunity for public input provided. Living in northern Minnesota, we’d expect nothing less. We should follow the law and the ultimate outcome should be based in science, not politics.”

A big selling point for supporters of Twin Metal’s proposal has been the chance at mining copper, nickel, and cobalt in Minnesota.

Those minerals can be used to make batteries needed for electric vehicles that could help cut down on harmful emissions.

State Senator David Tomassoni, an Iron Range independent, questioned Wednesday why we would not want to mine those minerals in the United States instead of relying on outside sources that may not have strict labor standards.

“If we really and truly want to lower our temperatures across the world by two degrees Celsius, we have to mine three billion tons of minerals and quite frankly we can do it right here in northern Minnesota with a really great workforce,” Tomassoni said.

He also said it stops the Twin Metals project in its tracks and has negative repercussions.

“It’s bad for jobs,” Tomassoni said. “It’s bad for critical minerals that the United States needs in order to advance its new-age economy.”

Environmentalists are praising the Biden administration’s move.

Save the Boundary Waters held a virtual press conference Wednesday.

Becky Rom, the group’s national campaign chair, said the area’s ecosystem is vital habitat to many species.

“Pollution from sulfide or copper mining is nearly impossible to contain and could last for hundreds if not thousands of years,” Rom said.

She also said the area deserves more protection.

“A mineral withdrawal is incredibly important for the Quetico Superior ecosystem,” Rom said. “It would protect a unique, ecologically significant, and intact ecosystem.”

Mining Minnesota’s Executive Director Frank Ongaro said sufficient environmental reviews are already in place.

“Just like this withdrawal was in 2016, it’s still unnecessary, it is still duplicative, it still does nothing to better protect the environment,” Ongaro said.

He also said this mineral withdrawal deja vu will drive other projects away.

“You cannot ask for clean energy and electric vehicles and lockout the only known resource of nickel in our country right here in Northeastern Minnesota,” Ongaro said. “That’s ridiculous.”

On the other hand, some business owners said their companies are closely tied to the ecosystem, and damaging the pristine Boundary Waters would be devastating.

“If you do harm the Boundary Waters, you end up harming the livelihoods of all the people that live here, and you harm what people came here for,” Dave Seaton, owner of Hungry Jack Outfitters in Grand Marais, said.

Paul Schurke, owner of Wintergreen Dogsled Lodge in Ely, said there are other ways to boost the economy that do not damage the Boundary Waters.

“In one of North America’s largest contributions of clean, freshwater lakes the effects of pollution would be extraordinarily devastating,” Schurke said.

The mineral withdrawal includes a two-year freeze on mining-related activity while the study is taking place.

Once it is complete, the Department of the Interior Secretary decides whether to order the 20-year withdrawal.

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