REGIONAL— The U.S. Interior Department announced late Wednesday that it has reinstated mineral leases for the Twin Metals project near Ely. The decision is a reversal of a decision made by the Obama administration in late 2016 and it is likely to face an immediate legal challenge by environmental groups that argue the decision is illegal.
The decision runs counter to the expressed view of the U.S. Forest Service, which declined to renew the leases in 2016. The Forest Service, which is part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, is continuing a review of a proposed withdrawal of 234,000 acres of the Superior National Forest located within the watershed of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness from the federal mineral leasing program. The Interior Department's renewal of the leases would exempt the lands controlled by Twin Metals from the potential withdrawal.
Minnesota Sixth District Congressman Tom Emmer lauded the decision, calling it “another step to full restoration of our state’s right to explore and advance responsible mining.” Emmer said he remained committed to bringing “thousands of jobs and billions of dollars back to Minnesota and putting our communities on a path of economic prosperity for years to come.”
Twin Metals estimates that its mine would provide jobs for about 650 mine workers.
Environmental groups note that the 1966 leases were cancelled in 1986 by the Reagan administration. The Reagan administration did extend new leases, but those agreements were subject to different rules than the original leases.
Doug Niemala, chair of the Ely-based Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters, called the decision by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke an “end-around” from both environmental review and the U.S. Forest Service, which had indicated that it does not support copper-nickel mining within the watershed of the 1.1 million-acre BWCAW.
Niemala said the campaign will file suit in court to overturn the decision.
The Timberjay will have more information on this development in its May 12 print edition.