Biden administration cancels two Minnesota mining leases granted under Trump
The Interior Department on Wednesday announced the cancellation of two mine leases in Minnesota that had been granted under the Trump administration.
The department renewed Twin Metals Minnesota’s leases for hardrock mineral mining near northeastern Minnesota’s Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in 2019. In a legal opinion Wednesday, the department’s Office of Solicitor ruled that the department improperly renewed them.
The outgoing Obama Interior Department had blocked the company’s renewal request in December 2016, but the Trump administration reversed the decision in 2018 and limited the scope of an environmental review.
The company was first issued leases for the area in 1966 but no mineral production has yet taken place at either site. Environmentalists have frequently expressed concern that mining activity could put the area, which spans nearly 1.1 million acres, at risk from toxic chemical leaching.
In the Wednesday opinion, principal deputy solicitor Ann Marie Bledsoe Downes wrote that the department “issued Twin Metals’ 2019 lease renewals in violation of multiple legal authorities.” Trump-era officials, she wrote, issued the 2019 renewals through customized legal forms that altered the standard leasing terms. Interior also did not properly recognize the U.S. Forest Service’s consent authority during the process and did not analyze all possible scenarios in their environmental analysis, as required, Downes determined.
Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minn.) praised Interior’s decision in a statement Wednesday.
“The Boundary Waters is a national treasure that belongs to all Americans, and I am absolutely committed to ensuring its watershed will be permanently protected,” she said. “Some places are simply too special to mine, and it is our obligation to ensure these unique and valuable lands and waters remain intact for generations to come.”
Twin Metals, meanwhile, accused the department of politicizing the renewal process.
“This is not about law; this is a political action intended to stop the Twin Metals project without conducting the environmental review prescribed in law,” the company said in a statement. “We have proposed a world-class underground copper, nickel, cobalt and platinum group metals mine that deserves to be evaluated through the established environmental review process.”
However, the Congressional Western Caucus, which currently comprises only Republicans, sharply criticized the decision, saying it would undermine U.S. energy independence.
“The Twin Metals mine would unleash the untapped potential of the Duluth Complex to provide a stable domestic supply of critical minerals, create thousands of good-paying union jobs, and strengthen future economic development for the region,” caucus Chairman Dan Newhouse (R-Wash.) said in a statement. “Instead, the Administration continues to make us reliant on countries like China and the Democratic Republic of the Congo by giving in to political extremists who clearly don’t have an understanding of the energy security, national defense, or environmental implications of shutting down safe, responsible development of minerals here at home.”
— Updated at 2:28 p.m.