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Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

DNR requests data from aborted federal withdrawal study

Trump administration has fought to keep study results under wraps

Marshall Helmberger
Posted 3/19/20

 

REGIONAL— The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has requested the full release of documents compiled for a federal study into a proposed withdrawal of mineral leasing from a …

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DNR requests data from aborted federal withdrawal study

Trump administration has fought to keep study results under wraps

Posted

REGIONAL— The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has requested the full release of documents compiled for a federal study into a proposed withdrawal of mineral leasing from a portion of the Superior National Forest. That request came in a March 10 letter from DNR Commissioner Sarah Strommen to Bob Lueckel, acting regional forester for the U.S. Forest Service.

The DNR, in December, announced that Twin Metals— owned by Chilean copper giant Antofagasta— had submitted a proposal to mine sulfide-based copper-nickel ore just upstream from the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, near Ely. Agency officials have begun a preliminary environmental review of the proposal and as part of that review, DNR officials say they want to see the materials that the Forest Service developed during their study of the withdrawal proposal, which encompassed lands that Twin Metals hopes to mine someday. The Trump administration halted the study just weeks before its scheduled completion in 2019.

The Star Tribune first reported on the DNR request.

In the letter, Commissioner Strommen notes that the DNR participated in the scoping for the withdrawal study and that the agency has “wide ranging resource management responsibilities in the study area.” The DNR also contributed specific comments for the study, ranging from the importance of the area to waterfowl, to wild rice, to the nature of the existing water quality in the downstream waters, particularly the BWCAW and Voyageurs National Park. As the government agency charged with conducting environmental review of the Twin Metals mining proposal, Strommen said the agency “has a responsibility to see access to existing information that may aid in our review of the project and in our determination of the scope of information that must be created.” Strommen cites a 2017 letter to the Forest Service in which state officials indicated their interest in seeing the findings of the federal study, which they believed would have “important implications for the people of Minnesota.”

Specifically, Commissioner Strommen requests complete access “to all information generated in the [study] process, including the mineral resources report, the biological and economic impact assessment, and the assessment or potential impacts to water resources, wilderness areas, and cultural resources.” The DNR is asking to receive the information within the next 30 days.

The federal study has been kept under wraps by the Trump administration for months, despite numerous requests to release the information. The Forest Service review, commissioned during the Obama administration, was supposed to analyze the potential environmental and economic impacts of a proposal to withdraw 234,000 acres of the Superior National Forest from the federal mineral leasing program for 20 years. The withdrawal, had it been approved, would have essentially blocked Twin Metals mine proposal.

The request could prove to be a point of friction between the Trump Forest Service and the administration of Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz. The Trump administration has been adamant about its refusal to release any details of the study, despite repeated requests from members of Congress and a lawsuit by The Wilderness Society. When court action forced the Trump administration to release materials related to the study earlier this month, it released 60 pages of materials that were redacted virtually in their entirety.

Yet the state may have leverage in the fight for access that Congress and environmental groups have lacked. Given that the DNR has opted to conduct its own environmental review, denying information that state officials believe is critical to advancing that review, could well create significant delays. While the Trump administration may be willing to advance the project quickly, virtually all of the key permits for the mine would need to be issued by the state of Minnesota.

 

 

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