Forest Service refuse to release Minnesota mining study

April 16, 2020

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources’ request for information on the impacts copper-nickel mining in Minnesota collected by the U.S. Forest Service was denied by the federal agency on the grounds that the study is incomplete and has not been reviewed.

The Star Tribune first reported that the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) requested the information last month as part of its environmental review of Twin Metals' underground copper-nickel mine proposed for the same watershed as the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW).

The federal study was started in the final days of the Obama administration but was later canceled by the Trump administration.

Robert Lueckel, acting regional forester for the Eastern Region, said the Forest Service would not be releasing the study because it was a “draft” that hadn't been reviewed internally or “formally approved by the relevant agency decision makers.” Lueckel added the study was of a different proposal, not the one Twin Metals submitted in December.

“Finally, our staff resources are currently focused on efforts to conduct analyses and gather data for the current proposal,” Lueckel wrote. “Accordingly, the agency will decline the invitation to release incomplete draft documents and instead continue its analysis of the current pending proposal.”

Twin Metals, owned by Chilean mining conglomerate Antofagasta, is hoping to build a large underground copper-nickel mine near Ely, within the Rainy River Watershed and on the edge of the BWCAW.

Last year, the DNR announced it would conduct its environmental review of Twin Metals separate from federal agencies, in part because it had concerns over the Trump administration’s handling of the project.

DNR Assistant Commissioner Jess Richards told the Duluth News Tribune that the agency is weighing its response to the Forest Service. 

“The DNR has not yet determined how we will respond to the (U.S. Forest Service) letter nor any implications their response may have to our review of the Twin Metals proposal,” Richards said.

U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum (D-St. Paul) has repeatedly tried to restart the study and get the findings from the partially-completed study into the public.

The Wilderness Society, an environmental group that sued for, and received, hundreds of pages of emails and documents has obtained the 61-page environmental assessment in question. All but the cover page is redacted.



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