Legislators back Twin Metals; Over 60 lawmakers voice outrage, want federal edict reversed

by Tom Coombe -

More than 60 Minnesota state lawmakers have signed a letter - sent to the Obama Administration - in protest of a decision that derailed the Twin Metals Minnesota copper-nickel mining project.
The letter, which appears in full on the Echo’s editorial page, “expresses our outrage at the recent politically-driven decision issued by the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Service related to mineral development in northeast Minnesota.”
Penned to outgoing Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, the letter was signed by a bipartisan group including House Speaker Kurt Daudt (R), Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka and Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk (D), who represents the Ely area.
Ely’s State House representative, Democrat Rob Ecklund of International Falls is among dozens of others to sign the letter, which contends federal action last month “will cause devastating and irreversible damage to the communities, citizens and economy of the region.”
At issue is a December ruling that essentially halts the Twin Metals project by rejecting the renewal of long-held exploratory leases held by the company.
Twin Metals is in the prefeasibility phase of a project that could lead to an underground mine that figures to employ several hundred people.
The project faces intense opposition from environmental interests, as well as Gov. Mark Dayton (D), who contend the project is too close to the adjacent Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, could pollute area waterways and damage the region’s tourist economy.
Twin Metals has filed suit against the federal government seeking reversal of the decision, and mining supporters are also hoping the incoming Trump Administration will reverse the position taken by Obama.
In their letter, the legislators urge the cabinet officials to “refocus your agencies on the proper tasks of accepting and assessing mining project proposals under the regulatory procedures established by the National Environmental Policy Act and other related federal statutes.”
At risk, according to the lawmakers are more than 12,000 construction jobs as well as 5,000 long-term mining jobs that would be created if the Twin Metals and other projects under various stages of development come to fruition.
The leases held by Twin Metals were first issued in 1966, and were renewed without controversy in 1989 and 2004.
Twin Metals has invested over $400 million in the Ely project and has office and storage facilities in the city’s business park.