Twin Metals testifies before Congress as Biden eyes boost to mining of minerals for electric vehicles
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Twin Metals testifies before Congress as Biden eyes boost to mining of minerals for electric vehicles

President Joe Biden invoked the Defense Production Act today in order to increase the mining of critical minerals that can be used to power electric vehicles.

The move could propel more copper-nickel mining projects to surface in Minnesota, though it does not restore the leases Twin Metals needs for its project on the edge of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. The leases were canceled in January.

Biden invoked Title III of the 1950 Defense Production Act, which will provide the government with economic authorities to address industrial shortfalls. Mining companies could access money under the law for production of minerals including lithium, nickel, graphite, cobalt and manganese, according to the Associated Press.

The government would not be issuing loans or directly purchasing minerals. The funding would instead cover feasibility studies, production at current operations and modernizing safety standards and production, according to the AP.

Twin Metals Minnesota Spokesperson Julie Padilla spoke today in front of the Senate Energy Committee, asking that Congress rescind a proposed mining ban and once again consider the project on the edge of the BWCA.

“Despite the need and urgency for these minerals, the Twin Metals project has been put on hold by a regulatory process that is subject to political pressures to the point that it circumvents laws passed by Congress and contradicts the commitment to scientific inquiry at the foundation of those laws,” Padilla said Thursday.

Lawmakers were divided on whether invoking the act is the best policy, as economic and national security issues may come into conflict with environmental protections despite assurances that standards would be followed.

A bipartisan group of senators, led by Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, urged Biden to deploy the Defense Production Action to boost the domestic output of critical minerals such as lithium and graphite.

“The United States relies almost exclusively on foreign nations – many of them unfriendly and with nonexistent labor and environmental standards – to meet much of our present mineral demand,” the senators said in a letter to Biden this month. “Allowing our foreign mineral dependence to persist is a growing threat to U.S. national security, and we need to take every step to address it.″

The Biden administration dealt a serious blow in October 2021 to the proposed Twin Metals copper-nickel mine, ordering a study that could lead to a 20-year ban on mining upstream from the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

The U.S. Forest Service filed an application with the Bureau of Land Management for a “mineral withdrawal,” which would begin with a two-year comprehensive study of the likely environmental and other impacts of mining if it were permitted in the watershed that flows into the Boundary Waters, the AP reports.

The application from the U.S. Forest Service would ban new mining on about 350 square miles of the Superior National Forest within the Rainy River watershed, which flows into the Boundary Waters. It includes Twin Metals Minnesota’s proposal for a copper-nickel mine near Ely.

Should the withdrawal be enacted, “it will cause Minnesota to lose the potential for thousands of mining jobs, billions of dollars in revenues for the state’s K-12 education system and billions in economic investment in the region,” Padilla said.

Meanwhile, some Democrats on the House Natural Resources Committee urged Biden not to invoke the Defense Production Act, saying that increased mining projects on public lands could jeopardize public health and sacred sites in the West.

“As it turns out, the oil and gas industry isn’t the only one taking advantage of tragedy in Ukraine,” said Rep. Raul Grijalva of Arizona, the panel’s chairman. “Like their fossil fuel peers, mining companies are making opportunistic pleas to advance a decades-old mining agenda that lets polluters off the hook and leaves Americans suffering the consequences. Fast-tracking mining under antiquated standards that put our public health, wilderness, and sacred sites at risk of permanent damage just isn’t the answer.”

The mining industry operates under the 150-year-old Mining Law of 1872. Under this statute, companies mining on public lands pay no federal royalties and are not held financially responsible for cleaning up the tens of thousands of toxic abandoned mine sites scattered across the United States.

Listen to the audio below to hear Padilla’s full statement from March 31 in front of the Senate Energy Committee.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.