Door open for Twin Metals?

Biden’s AG Secretary says administration looking to find balance between preservation and economic growth in country’s rural areas

by Tom Coombe
The Biden Administration has not yet decided if it will take action related to the Twin Metals Minnesota copper-nickel mining project near Ely, according to a report filed late Wednesday by an international news service.
Reuters reported on a White House briefing and comments made by U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, suggesting that the administration is looking to strike a balance between job growth and vehement, persistent opposition from project opponents.
“There are no final decisions being made on this,” Vilsack said.
Supporters of the Twin Metals project, which promises hundreds of new, high-paying mining jobs should it come to fruition, have feared the new administration would reverse action taken by the Trump Administration and stop Twin Metals in its tracks.
Vilsack’s comments, according to Reuters, “were among the first by a senior official in President Biden’s administration on the proposed underground mine,” which has been in the works for more than a decade but remains in the planning stages.
The Biden Administration is “trying to find the balance between preserving a pristine area, and at the same time looking for ways in which job growth and economic growth can take place in rural areas. And that’s what we’re going to attempt to do,” Vilsack told reporters.
The comments drew a quick response from the Friends of the Boundary Wilderness, one of several environmental groups trying to stop the project, calling the Twin Metals initiative “much more of a soggy Band-Aid than any kind of real fix for the area’s economy.”
Opponents had been hoping that the Agriculture Department, which oversees the U.S. Forest Service, would pivot back to a stance taken by the Obama Administration in late-2016.
That’s when the agency pulled critical mineral leases held by Twin Metals and initiated a process that could lead to a 20-year ban on mining development in the region.
Those actions led to legal action by Twin Metals and were subsequently reversed by the Trump Administration.
U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minnesota) has introduced legislation that would ban mining on more than 200,000 acres of national Forest land and also derail Twin Metals, but the bill’s prospects are dim in the U.S. Senate.
Opponents have also pressed for executive action, and got some hope when Vilsack moved in March to temporarily block a copper mining project in Arizona.
Twin Metals remains in the development stage and is controlled by Chilean mining giant Antofagasta. The company has pressed for the government to follow existing regulatory processes and has promised to meet and exceed all environmental standards.
The project near Birch Lake has been largely supported by local officials but faces continued opposition from a coalition of environmental groups including the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters.
They’ve sought both state and federal action to torpedo the project and contend it would pollute the nearby BWCAW and ravage the region’s tourism and amenity-based economies.
Federal lawsuits also have targeted the Twin Metals project, with Northeastern Minnesotans for Wilderness leading a coalition that contends the federal government’s processes for renewing critical minerals leases for Twin Metals were flawed and superficial. They also challenged a federal court ruling that said the government was within its authority by renewing the leases.
If built, the Twin Metals mine would be a major supplier of copper to the United States as Biden aims to build more electric vehicles, which use twice as much of the red metal as those with internal combustion engines, Reuters reported.