State ends Twin Metals review

Fed mineral lease cancellation led to decision

by Tom Coombe
In the wake of federal action that has derailed the Twin Metals Minnesota copper-nickel mining project, the state of Minnesota has followed suit and ended its environmental review of the proposed mine near Ely.
The action was announced Tuesday, with Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Sarah Strommen notifying the company that the agency “has directed its staff to stop work on the environmental review for the proposed Twin Metals project.”
That decision, which came after consultation between DNR staff and Twin Metals officials, follows a late-January edict by the Biden Administration to cancel two federal mineral leases that are pivotal to the project.
Despite the key blows, Twin Metals is pressing on with its plans to develop an underground mine that promises hundreds of new jobs. Legal action may be next in an attempt to rejuvenate the project.
In a statement released this week, the company said:
“Twin Metals Minnesota is working to determine the next steps to continue to advance our underground copper, nickel, cobalt and platinum group metals project. A pause on the environmental review process is necessary and appropriate while we defend our project and our mineral rights in court. We remain committed to the communities of northeast Minnesota and to advancing a modern mine that will produce the minerals necessary for combating climate change, strengthening domestic supply chains and creating American jobs.”
The DNR meanwhile, is at least for now closing the books on Twin Metals.
In a letter to Twin Metals CEO Kelly Osborne, Strommen said that over the next several weeks, “The DNR will take the necessary steps to assemble the project record to ensure documents and data are appropriately archived. Once that process is complete, the DNR will close the administrative record for this project and manage it pursuant to the agency’s record management requirements.”
The DNR also indicated that in a separate matter, the agency has concerns about the proposed location for the tailings disposal facility,” needed for the mine.
Strommen said the current proposed location would potentially encumber school trust mineral resources and “pose an unacceptable financial risk to the state and potentially to the school trust fund.”
The decision is the latest in what has been a back-and-forth series of conflicting rulings on the project, predicated on political control.
The Obama Administration first pulled the Twin Metals leases in late-2016, and that decision was later reversed by former President Trump, a Republican.
Last fall, the latest ruling was foreshadowed by the Democratic Biden Administration, which rejected preference right lease applications for Twin Metals and announced plans to seek a 20-year moratorium on mining on national forest land near the BWCA.
Twin Metals remains in the development stage and is controlled by Chilean mining giant Antofafasta. The company has pressed for the government to follow existing regulatory processes and has promised to meet and exceed all environmental standards. It 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.
Opponents have sought a permanent ban on mining near the BWCA and say the Twin Metals project would destroy the region’s water-rich environment and devastate the area’s tourism based economy.
The U.S. Forest Service has restarted a previously canceled study of the environmental, cultural and economic impacts of mining near the Boundary Waters.
A public comment period has included a series of recent, remote public meetings on the topic.
Twin Metals Minnesota, which has offices and storage facilities in Ely, formally submitted its mine proposal in late 2019. This proposal was the culmination of more than a decade of engineering, hydro-geological, environmental and engagement work including the evaluation of dozens of project-specific configurations and technologies that maximize environmental protection, according to company officials.