Why the federal government renewed Twin Metals Minnesota mineral leases

by Assistant Secretary for Land
and Minerals Management Joe Balash
At the dawn of the twentieth century, tens of thousands of people arrived and settled in the Iron Range across northern Minnesota. They came from Scandinavia, Austria-Hungary, Italy, England, and dozens of other places of origin. These new Minnesotans mined the ore, for which the region was named, and built their communities. By 1920, their population had swelled to over 100,000 and comprised 85 percent of the workforce in the mines. When the rise of National Socialism threatened the western world, output from these mines fed the production of the tanks, ships, and airplanes that won World War II.
A century later, we find ourselves in a world where copper is essential to our efficient use of electricity and the transmission of information. Once again, northern Minnesota may play a key role in supplying the raw materials that are needed for solar panels, electric vehicles, and smartphones.
On Wednesday, May 15, I signed the non-discretionary renewal of two hard rock mineral leases held by Twin Metals Minnesota, LLC. This action was taken, in part, to fulfill Executive Orders signed by President Trump, “Promoting Energy Independence and Economic Growth” and “A Federal Strategy to Ensure Secure and Reliable Supplies of Critical Minerals.”
These leases contain what may be described as a world-class mineral deposit on the Superior National Forest that contains copper, nickel, platinum, and palladium. These metals not only enable the conveniences that we all take for granted, but they are of critical strategic importance for our national security.
Today, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) executes its mission to manage hard rock mineral leases on the Superior National Forest, fully aware of the positive effects mining confers to the economy and culture of the region. If constructed, the mine is estimated to bring 650 direct and 1,300 indirect jobs to Ely, Babbitt, and the greater northeast Minnesota community.
We are very much aware that not all Minnesotans, not all Americans, share the same opinion about whether it is appropriate to develop these minerals in this area, which is south of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. For this reason, I want to make clear what these lease renewals will require from the company and what they will mean for the natural resources.
Under the terms of these lease renewals, Twin Metals Minnesota, LLC, will have 10 years to submit a mine plan of operations to the BLM, obtain all necessary permits, and meet certain milestones for mine construction. Along with the U.S. Forest Service (USFS), BLM will undertake a comprehensive review of the proposal and follow the procedures under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) to assess the potential environmental impacts from the proposed mine and alternatives to the mine plan. We will hold public meetings, provide an opportunity for public comments, consider the potential environmental impacts, and explain any future decisions.
While the potential benefits of this mine are promising, we also take seriously our obligations to protect the surface water, groundwater, and overall ecological health of the region. The BLM and USFS are committed to working together as partners to enforce the environmentally protective conditions of the leases to protect the natural resources around us. We work to manage and preserve our natural resources because we understand the intrinsic value of the land. We also understand that throughout our history as a nation, the culture and economy of many communities depends upon both the development and utilization of natural resources, as well as the conservation of and recreation associated with those same resources.
Our challenge as professional land resource managers is to scrupulously weigh each decision based on the best available science, in accordance with the laws passed by Congress, and after considerable consultation with the public we serve. Our charge is to recognize opportunities to improve all our lives by accessing valuable minerals for the greatest good, while sharing in all our personal responsibility for public lands stewardship. This decision does just that.