MINNEAPOLIS (KMSP) - The U.S. Department of the Interior and the Department of Agriculture have denied an application for the renewal of two hard rock mineral leases in northern Minnesota. Twin Metals has proposed a copper-nickel mine near Ely, but the federal government determine the project poses too much of a risk to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, which Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack called a “natural treasure.”
"The Boundary Waters is a natural treasure, special to the 150,000 who canoe, fish, and recreate there each year, and is the economic life blood to local business that depend on a pristine natural resource," said Vilsack. "I have asked Interior to take a time out, conduct a careful environmental analysis and engage the public on whether future mining should be authorized on any federal land next door to the Boundary Waters."
USDA and the Department of the Interior cited “broad concerns from thousands of public comments” about the potential consequences of mining near the BWCA. The Forest Service cited the potential risk of contamination of the BWCA as a key concern, with the two mineral leases located within 3 miles of the BWCA.
The Forest Service also submitted an application to the Secretary of the Interior to withdraw key portions of the watershed that flows into the BWCA from any new mineral permits and leases.
In establishing the BWCA more than 50 years ago, Congress directed the Forest Service to maintain its water quality, protect its fish and wildlife, and minimize the environmental impacts associated with mineral development.
The decision was immediately met with applause from conservationist with Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness.
"These actions happened because tens of thousands of people spoke up against locating a sulfide mine on the edge of America's most popular wilderness area," executive director Paul Danicic said in a statement. "We thank the U.S. Forest Service for listening to their concerns and making a decision that protects the Boundary Waters from Twin Metals' dangerous proposal. Now it's critical that everybody who cares for the Boundary Waters join us and show the federal government how many people support permanently protecting the Boundary Waters from sulfide mining pollution."
Twin Metals has said it can mine in the region without damaging or contaminating the wilderness and has touted the hundreds of jobs the project could create.
Statement from Twin Metals
“Twin Metals is greatly disappointed in the action announced today by the BLM and the USFS to deny renewal of two of the company’s long-standing and valid mineral leases in Minnesota, and to initiate actions to withdraw federal lands and minerals from future exploration and development. If allowed to stand, the BLM-USFS actions will have a devastating impact on the future economy of the Iron Range and all of Northeast Minnesota, eliminating the promise of thousands of good-paying jobs and billions of dollars in investment in the region. Further, this unprecedented decision is contrary to the overwhelming majority of local and regional citizens and communities who support mining and believe mining can be done responsibly in this region.
"Twin Metals' leases have been held in good standing by the federal government for more than 50 years, and twice renewed without controversy. As stated in a federal lawsuit filed in September 2016, Twin Metals believes denial of the leases is inconsistent with federal law, the terms of leases themselves, and the federal government’s established precedent in supporting and renewing the leases over five decades.
"While Twin Metals is assessing the impact of the agencies’ lease renewal decision, the company is committed to progressing our project forward and will continue to pursue legal avenues to protect our contractual mineral rights.”
"The leases in question were issued by the federal government in 1966 with a right of unlimited, successive 10-year renewals. The leases were renewed by BLM without controversy in 1989 and again in 2004. Twin Metals filed the current lease renewal application in mid-2013. Twin Metals has invested more than $400 million to date in acquisition, exploration, technical, environmental, and other project development activities. If not overturned, the decision to deny renewal of the leases threatens to deprive northeastern Minnesota of the potential for hundreds of future jobs and billions of dollars in environmentally-responsible economic development.
Statement from Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton
"Today's announcement is tremendous news for the protection of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BCWAW), a crown jewel in Minnesota, and a national treasure. It is important to note that this decision is not in opposition to mining, but in defense of a pristine and priceless environmental wonder. We must continue doing all we can to support good jobs and a strong economy in Northeastern Minnesota, while ensuring the protection of our greatest natural resources. I thank Secretary Vilsack and Secretary Jewell for their exceptional leadership, to protect the BWCAW for all Minnesotans and for our country."
Statement from Minnesota House Speaker Kurt Daudt
“It is clear this is a decision driven by Democrats who are trying to kill all the mining projects they can while the lame-duck Obama administration is still in office. It is astounding that Democrats are blocking what would be one of the largest private construction projects in state history, while also depriving Iron Range workers of hundreds of good-paying jobs that would follow.”
Statement from Republican Party of Minnesota Chairman Keith Downey
"In a cruel attack on Iron Range families right before Christmas, Democrats effectively killed the Twin Metals' mining project today and likely all future mining with an order from the Obama administration. The Democrats' cynical and pathetic show of rejecting the "kill mining" Resolution 54 at their State Central Committee meeting last Saturday is the absolute worst of politics. Shamefully, Mark Dayton, Rick Nolan and Amy Klobuchar claim to support mining, all the while they must have known that this order was coming. It is no coincidence that this order effectively accomplishes the intensions of Resolution 54. The order requires that equipment must be removed from the site and all activity shut down. We'll say it again, watch what Democrats do, not what they say, when it comes to killing mining and destroying the economy of Northeastern Minnesota."