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REGIONAL— The federal environmental review process for the proposed Twin Metals copper-nickel mine and a related mineral lease near Ely is now underway. The Bureau of Land Management announced …
REGIONAL— The federal environmental review process for the proposed Twin Metals copper-nickel mine and a related mineral lease near Ely is now underway. The Bureau of Land Management announced Tuesday that it is ready to move forward with preparation of an environmental impact statement in cooperation with the U.S. Forest Service.
Twin Metals submitted a formal plan for its proposed sulfide-based mine back in December. The company has also submitted a preference-right lease application for additional lands on which it has been prospecting. An analysis of the lease application will be part of the upcoming environmental review.
“Under President Trump’s leadership and direction from the Secretary, this proposed mine may reduce the vulnerability to disruption of critical mineral supplies,” said William Perry Pendley, Deputy Director for Policy and Programs for the BLM.
The announcement begins a public process for scoping of issues that will be examined in the EIS. The BLM is currently deciding when and where it will hold public scoping meetings. Once that decision is made, notifications will be published in the Duluth News-Tribune and the Minneapolis Star Tribune.
The BLM’s decision to move ahead with an EIS comes less than a week after the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources announced that the company’s mine plan was “incomplete.” The DNR, at the same time, submitted more than 800 questions and comments to Twin Metals related to the proposal. A company spokesperson said Twin Metals would be responding quickly to the DNR’s questions and concerns.
Unlike the review of PolyMet’s proposed copper-nickel mine near Hoyt Lakes, where the DNR and the federal Forest Service produced a joint EIS, the DNR has announced that it will conduct a separate state review for the project. The project is highly controversial in Minnesota due to its proximity to the 1.1 million-acre Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and it appears that state regulators have questions about the Trump administration’s commitment to environmental regulation. State regulators would ultimately be responsible for the bulk of the permitting required for the Twin Metals project.
This week’s announcement was lauded by pro-mining organizations. “Twin Metals’ proposed mine has the potential to help revitalize the economy of northeastern Minnesota by creating more than 750 high-wage, family-sustaining mining jobs plus 1,500 spinoff jobs in the region,” said Nancy Norr, Chair of the industry-backed group Jobs for Minnesotans. “And, it will provide strategic minerals critical to the medical industry, broadband communications technology and the transition to a green economy,” added Norr.
A Twin Metals spokesperson also lauded the decision. “This is a standard but significant step in the process,” said Julie Padilla, Twin Metals Chief Regulatory Officer. “It signals that the federal government is moving ahead with its regulatory review, which we expect will take a number of years to complete and should include any relevant data from previous studies.”
Meanwhile, critics of the project blasted the administration’s decision. Former Minnesota DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr, who now serves as executive director of the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters, challenged the argument of supporters who claim that the U.S. needs the metals that the Twin Metals mine would produce. “America has 24 mines producing copper,” said Landwehr. “There is no shortage of copper, but there is only one Boundary Waters.”
Critics note that the federal review comes just as President Trump has signed an executive order that sharply limits the scope and time frame of environmental reviews as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The administration has also refused to release scientific studies and other data gathered by the Forest Service as part of a two-year study of a proposed mineral withdrawal in the area covered by the Twin Metal leases. The administration abruptly canceled that study last year, just weeks before it was scheduled for completion.
“They have shredded the federal Clean Water Act, gutted the National Environmental Policy Act, arbitrarily reinstated expired leases, made a joke of the environmental review process, canceled critical studies, and suppressed important science, all with the goal of handing over America’s most popular wilderness to be exploited for the benefit of a Chilean multinational mining company,” said Landwehr.
Chris Knopf, executive director of Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness, agreed. “In its unflagging enthusiasm for these mines, the Trump administration has suppressed science, hidden information, ignored pending litigation, and twisted the law to allow a Chilean-owned company to override the will of the American people,” he said in a statement.
BLM’s Perry dismisses such concerns. “If the plan of operation is approved, you can rest assured knowing that development and production of critical minerals is done in an environmentally-responsible, regulatory-consistent, and economically-feasible manner,” he said.
The proposed mine plan of operations and maps showing the locations of the proposed mine, existing leases, and requested preference-right lease, and shapefiles showing the locations of areas proposed for development can be found at https://eplanning.blm.gov/eplanning-ui/project/1503233/510.
Even as the federal environmental review gets underway, questions still remain about the financial viability of the Twin Metals project. The mine plan presented by Twin Metals in December did not include any financial projections and the company has not responded to questions on the subject from the Timberjay.
A financial projection issued by Duluth Metals, the former parent to the Twin Metals project, in 2014, prompted a collapse in Duluth Metals’ stock price, at which point Antofagasta acquired the company at a fire sale price. That disappointing projection was based on an assumed copper price of $3.50 per pound and an assumed nickel price of $9.50 per pound. Copper has not reached $3.50 per pound at any time in the past five years and was trading at $2.73 per pound this week. Nickel has averaged less than $6 per pound over the past five years and is currently trading at $5.78 per pound.
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