Forest Service remarks are shameful

Trying to get a fair shake from the federal government is getting tougher and tougher, especially when the U.S. Forest Service is involved.
A news release on federal leases for Twin Metals Minnesota was sent out by the U.S. Forest Service’s Milwaukee office. The tone of the news release sounded like something from the Sierra Club.
“The Forest Service is deeply concerned by the location of the leases within the same watershed as the BWCAW, and by the inherent risks associated with potential copper, nickel and other sulfide mining operations within that watershed.”
Deeply concerned? Sulfide mining? Holy smokes! This is the agency charged with being neutral on this issue? Whoever wrote this news release ought to be fired on the spot and a public apology immediately issued.
Let’s take a step back and look at some irrefutable facts.
1. These leases are not subject to the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA). There is no federally mandated environmental review. The meeting in Duluth July 13 is a “listening session” not a public hearing.
2. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) requested that the Forest Service provide a decision on whether it consents or does not consent to the renewal of the leases. Again, no NEPA, just a request for consent or no consent.
3. The Forest Service could have held the meeting in Ely where the leases are located and where the impact is the greatest. Instead the July 13 is a “listening session” in Duluth, two hours away. For people on the Range who work for a living they will need to take time off of work just to attend.
Twin Metals Minnesota is seeking approval from the U.S. government for renewal of two federal mineral Preference Right Leases – MNES 1352 & MNES 1353 – which are the foundation of Twin Metals’ proposed underground copper-nickel mining project in the Iron Range region of northeast Minnesota.
The Twin Metals leases were first issued in 1966, and have been twice renewed by the federal government (1989 and 2004) with the endorsement of the U.S. Forest Service (USFS). The normally routine renewal of Twin Metals’ leases is critical for Twin Metals to continue project development activities.
However, the USFS has recently reversed its previous endorsement and publicly stated its intention to block the renewal of Twin Metals’ leases, and to block the exploration and development of ALL potential future mining opportunities in the Rainy River Watershed of northeast Minnesota.
The USFS is basing its proposed action on an arbitrary view that all mineral leases and potential mining activity pose an environmental threat to the watershed – though Twin Metals has not yet formally proposed a mining project and no formal project-specific environmental review has been conducted.
Remember, there is no formal process for what the Forest Service is doing. The agency is making it up as they go. There are no studies being conducted, no experts being consulted, no measurable impacts being reviewed.
Environmental issues should be studied under the thorough, multi-agency, science–based Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) process that is required by NEPA after a specific mining project is proposed.
We can support a theory why the Forest Service is avoiding NEPA like the plague on this one. The USFS’s “Superior National Forest Land and Resource Management Plan” identifies mining activity as a “desired condition” within the appropriately designated areas of the Forest. It’s pretty tough for an agency to argue against its own marching orders.
And, when the agency previously renewed Twin Metals’ leases, the USFS stated that the leases’ “terms, conditions and stipulations…are sufficient to protect the resources of the United States” and were “adequate to prevent or mitigate unacceptable impacts.” Nothing has changed regarding the leases since those USFS findings.
Before mining can occur on the leased lands, the BLM must approve a federal Mine Plan of Operations (MPO), which can only be issued after completion of a joint federal-state EIS. Sound familiar? This is what PolyMet had to go through and Twin Metals will as well.
This past week one of Rep. Rick Nolan’s employees was in Ely to listen to concerns of area residents. The anti-mining crowd decided to show up and express their concerns. Since it is highly unlikely that anyone in the anti-mining crowd is going to support a Republican such as Stewart Mills in the upcoming election, they must be very frustrated, especially when Nolan has backed the proposed mining projects with the required environmental review.
Nolan said, “As I have said before, a renewal of the leases is not to be confused with the final approval or disapproval of the Twin Metals project itself. That decision will rest on a rigorous and thorough process based on science, facts and technology.
“To proceed otherwise would be to circumvent the strict rules and regulations we have in place to ensure that the integrity of mining projects, as well as our water, land and air, are fully protected as we move forward to grow our economy here in northeastern Minnesota. We should never be afraid of exploration and discovery, or using science and facts to dictate important decisions. That is what these initial stages of the proposed Twin Metals project are all about.”
What the Forest Service has done is degrade the federal government’s role as an impartial overseer of our public lands. It’s a travesty of the trust we place in public officials.
This is a sham from the word go.