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Feds deal Twin Metals project near BWCA another massive setback

On the same day the U.S. Forest Service opened permits for the 2022 paddling season in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, a separate news item reached the WTIP news desk regarding a proposed copper-nickel mine on the edge of the most visited wilderness in the nation.

The Biden administration announced today that it canceled a pair of Twin Metals mineral rights leases for a proposed copper-nickel mine in northeastern Minnesota.

This action alone could ultimately doom the proposed mine near the BWCA, according to many state and federal officials.

In making the announcement, the U.S. Department of the Interior said it determined that the expired Twin Metals leases were unlawfully reinstated by the Trump administration. This reinstatement violated federal laws and regulations, including the legal requirement that the U.S. Forest Service must consent to mineral leases, according to a directive signed by Ann Marie Bledsoe Downes, the principal deputy solicitor for the Department of Interior.

In addition, the Biden administration announced today that Twin Metals cannot reapply for federal mineral leases in the watershed of the BWCA at this time because of the initiation of the mineral withdrawal process, according to the missive from the Interior Department.

Furthermore, the Biden administration is currently considering whether mining in the watershed of the Boundary Waters should be banned. In October it announced the initiation of a mineral withdrawal process that could lead to a ban on mining for up to 20 years. That process results in an environmental study of the impact of copper-nickel mining on the Boundary Waters and surrounding communities.

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said in a press release that “the Department of the Interior takes seriously our obligations to steward public lands and waters on behalf of all Americans. We must be consistent in how we apply lease terms to ensure that no lessee receives special treatment. After 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.”

Meanwhile, the news was not celebrated by some in northeastern Minnesota, including U.S. Rep. Pete Stauber.

“I saw this coming from day one, which is why I was vocal in my opposition to Secretary Haaland’s nomination as interior secretary,” Stauber said.

District 3A Rep. Rob Ecklund also voiced displeasure with the announcement Wednesday. In a statement sent to WTIP, Ecklund said, “the Department of the Interior’s decision to unilaterally cancel the Twin Metals leases is extremely disappointing. Minnesota has a strong history of mining safely and responsibly, and we’re in a new generation of engineering and operating technologies. Projects like Twin Metals ought to be judged fairly on the merits, not dismissed based on politics.”