Twin Metals plans appeal

Company says ruling was “politically motivated... unnecessary”

by Tom Coombe
Twin Metals Minnesota is fighting back against a Biden Administration decision that could derail plans for the company’s proposed copper-nickel mine near Ely.
The company announced Wednesday that it would appeal the administration’s decision to reject preference right lease applications and prospecting permit applications for the project.
The decision came on the heels of an announcement that the government would seek a 20-year moratorium on mining on national forest land near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.
“We remain steadfast in our commitment to the communities of northeast Minnesota,” said Kelly Osborne, Twin Metals Chief Executive Officer. “We have a viable mining project that we will move forward under existing law.”
Earlier in the month, the U.S. Department of Interior and the U.S. Department of Agriculture issued a joint statement, calling the BWCAW a “unique, natural wonder,” and reinstating plans for a moratorium that were first announced by the Obama Administration in late-2016.
That decision was later reversed by former President Trump, a Republican.
The current Democratic administration shifted course again, creating uncertainty for a project that has been in the works for more than a decade, and promises hundreds of new mining jobs while facing opposition from environmental groups.
As part of the action announced last week, the U.S. Forest Service has applied to the Bureau of Land Management for a 20-year mineral withdrawal of more than 200,000 acres of federal land in a watershed that includes the Boundary Waters.
While Twin Metals’ current mineral leases are not affected, the decision impacts a third lease that is needed for the project.
While the current action puts a moratorium on new mining permits and leases, Congressional action would be needed to implement a permanent ban sought by mining opponents.
In a statement announcing its appeal, Twin Metals stated “Last week, the federal government took back-to-back actions that threaten the future of thousands of jobs in northern Minnesota and the ability of the United States to produce the minerals necessary to combat climate change and secure domestic supply chains, contradicting the Biden Administration’s own priorities.
“The rejection of the preference right lease applications and prospecting permit applications was both politically motivated and completely unnecessary,” said Julie Padilla, Twin Metals Chief Regulatory Officer. “This tells us that the federal government has no intention to listen to science, and it also makes clear that opponents of copper-nickel mining are afraid that the established environmental review process already underway for our project would show that a modern copper-nickel mine can be safe for the environment and should be permitted.”
The Forest Service will also restart a previously canceled study of the environmental, cultural and economic impacts of mining near the Boundary Waters.
Notice of the withdrawal will lead to a 90-day public comment period, and a final decision could take two years.
Opponents of the Twin Metals project are also fighting the Trump Administration’s reinstatement and renewal of long-held mineral leases. That remains in litigation.
The company formally submitted its mine proposal to state and federal agencies in late 2019. This proposal was the culmination of more than a decade of engineering, hydrogeological, environmental and engagement work including the evaluation of dozens of project-specific configurations and technologies that maximize environmental protection.
Since Twin Metals’ mine plan submittal, company officials say they and their contractors “have produced in excess of 25,000 pages of scientific baseline data and environmental analyses on the specifics of the Twin Metals project to support the state and federal agencies for the environmental review process. However, regulators have failed to advance that process.”
Twin Metals contends the minerals it proposes to mine – copper, nickel, cobalt and platinum group metals – are needed for clean energy technologies that are essential to combat climate change and secure domestic supply chains.
The Twin Metals 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.
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.
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.
Should it come to fruition, the project is expected to bring hundreds of new high-paying mining jobs to the region, as well as spinoff employment.