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Forest Service ‘deeply concerned’ about Minnesota mining project

The U.S. Forest Service says it is “deeply concerned” about potential precious metal mining in an environmentally sensitive area of Minnesota, raising the prospect it may block the renewal of mineral leases there. 

Federal officials are currently considering whether to renew mineral leases for Twin Metals, a proposed copper-nickel mining project in the watershed of northern Minnesota’s Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW). 

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In a Monday statement, the Forest Service said it will hold public hearings on the lease renewal question, but that it is “deeply concerned by the location of the leases within the same watershed as the BWCAW, and by the inherent risks associated with potential copper, nickel and other sulfide mining operations within that watershed.”

“Based on these concerns, the Forest Service is considering withholding consent for lease renewal,” the agency said. 

Twin Metals is a major proposal for Minnesota’s mining industry, promising 850 mining jobs and 30 years of precious metal production in the state.

But it has drawn opposition from environmental groups in Minnesota, which say the Boundary Waters could be damaged if there are problems with the mining process. The groups have looked to pressure the Obama administration into blocking the renewal of the mineral leases as a way to stop the mining project — which is already several years off — from moving forward.

The issue has caused a flair-up among Minnesota political leaders as well. Rep. Rick NolanRichard (Rick) Michael NolanFranken resignation could upend Minnesota races Dem lawmaker introduces airline passenger 'bill of rights' legislation House votes on US involvement in Yemen MORE (D-Minn.), who represents that area, said in a Monday statement that he “strong[ly] disagree[s]” with the Forest Service's initial decision to withhold the leases. 

“Now is not the time to preemptively block new mining opportunities on the [Iron] Range, or the environmental review process itself,” he said. “Moreover, it seems apparent from the Forest Service’s announcement today that they have all but decided to disapprove the leases even before the 30-day waiting period for public input and a listening session commences. That, in itself, is very disturbing.”

The Forest Service says it will take public comments on the issue through July 20 and will hold a listening session in Duluth, Minn., next month.