Mining ban is rescinded by Trump Administration

by Tom Coombe -

The Trump Administration handed copper-nickel mining supporters a major victory Thursday, when it opened up more than 234,000 acres of national forest land to mining development and exploration.
By ending the proposed mineral withdrawal, the U.S. Department of Agriculture made good on a promise made by President Trump during a June appearance in Duluth, and halted a process that could have led to a 20-year mining ban in the Superior National Forest, south and west of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.
Thursday’s decision was hailed by mining supporters and local officials, who had charged that the mineral withdrawal initiated by the Obama Administration in late-2016 circumvented existing processes for permitting copper-nickel mines.
“That’s what we have been asking for in Washington,” Ely Mayor Chuck Novak said of the edict. “This is what we have been speaking about with our legislators and those in the western caucus. This goes along with current law and current processes. We weren’t asking to mine. We were asking to follow the law and follow the process.”
Joe Baltich started the grassroots group Fight for Mining Minnesota in the wake of the withdrawal process, picking up more than 12,000 supporters and going to Washington, D.C. to counter the mining opposition.
He said Thursday “We’re thrilled. We did a lot of work in citizen advocacy for mining and this proved what the grassroots could do. We were up against large environmental groups flush with cash and we’re this little train that could.”
Mining opponents disagreed, slamming the decision and charging that further study sought during a so-called “timeout” for mining exploration was necessary.
“The administration ignored science and facts, and clearly did not complete a promised study on the social, economic and environmental harm that sulfide-ore copper mining would do to America’s most popular wilderness,” the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters said in a written statement. “There is no indication the required environmental assessment was ever completed, nor was it ever put out for public comment, which is normal practice.”
The decision opens the door for mining companies to gain mineral leases within the Rainy River Watershed, and it appears to mark a major step forward for Twin Metals Minnesota, which plans to develop an underground copper-nickel mine near Ely.
Earlier in the year, the Trump Administration reinstated mineral leases held by Twin Metals and subsequently taken away by the Obama Administration.
Twin Metals filed suit but dropped its legal action when the Obama Administration’s actions were rescinded.
The mineral withdrawal coincided with the action to block Twin Metals’ leases, and led to a series of public hearings last year.
Mining opponents had pressed for the withdrawal and said it was needed to consider the potential environmental impacts of copper-nickel mining.
Critics say the proposed mines are too risky to be done in the region’s water-rich environment and will pollute the adjacent BWCAW and destroy segments of the region’s economy.
Local officials have largely been supportive of the copper-nickel projects proposed by Twin Metals as well as PolyMet, which is moving toward permitting of a mine near Hoyt Lakes.
They rallied against the proposed withdrawal and reacted favorably Thursday.
“Today, our future looks just a bit brighter,” said Steve Giorgi, executive director of the Range Association of Municipalities and Schools.”
“Today’s announcement reinforces the power of ‘One Range, One Voice,’” said Giorgi. “ Our communities, our businesses, our labor partners and elected officials all came together and spoke loudly and proudly on this issue at public hearings, rallies and through the media. The Range is a mining center of excellence, we have done it for over a 130 years, we care about our back yard and our neighbors back yard where we recreate and live. If anyone can access precious minerals safely, or harvest mature timber growth, meeting all required environmental standards, we can.”
Novak said the proposed withdrawal created a further and unnecessary obstacle.
“The action to study for withdrawal has made very possible investor and prospector shy,” said Novak. “They had no hope in gaining any investment that would be made during that time.”
Baltich said “I didn’t expect” the decision and hailed his group’s strong working relationship with the Trump Administration and members of Congress as well as the advocacy of key members in his group, including Cindy Omerza Stene and Greg Mosher of Ely.
“ I got word from one of our contacts in DC because we brought the face of people to DC who are affected by these decisions, we drove this thing over the finish line,” said Baltich. “It took 21 months to solve this problem. It’s hard to believe.. I was told when I started FFM it was pointless and you can’t beat those people. If I would’ve listened this wouldn’t have happened.”