New bill takes aim at Twin Metals and could impact other mines if passed

July 20, 2020

A proposed federal funding bill includes language that takes aim at Twin Metals Minnesota’s copper and nickel project in Minnesota’s Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. The bill could also impact future expansion plans for iron ore mines in the area.

Twincities.com reported that U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum, who chairs the Interior, Environment and Related Agencies subcommittee, announced that language in the almost $37 billion bill would prohibit federal agencies from reviewing mine plans within the Rainy River Watershed and Superior National Forest during the 2021 fiscal year.

While the bill is aimed at halting the review of the Twin Metals project it would also mean any future mine plans for the existing iron ore mines that straddle the Rainy River Watershed and Superior National Forest could be affected, too.

“None of the funds appropriated or otherwise made available by this Act may be used to review or approve a mine plan proposed within the Rainy River Watershed of the Superior National Forest,” the bill’s text reads.

The bill was approved by the House Appropriations Committee and awaits a vote by the full U.S. House of Representatives.

The tailings basins and pellet plants of U.S. Steel’s Minntac in Mountain Iron and ArcelorMittal’s Minorca in Virginia are at least partially within the Rainy River Watershed and Superior National Forest, while the facilities’ open mine pits sit mostly within the Lake Superior Watershed.

Cleveland-Cliffs’ Northshore Mining mine pit near Babbitt sits in both watersheds and on the border of the Superior National Forest, while its plant and tailings basin are in the Lake Superior Watershed and outside federal land.

In a news release, Republican U.S. Rep. Pete Stauber said McCollum’s bill “seeks to ban not only new mines, but future operations in existing iron ore mines within the Rainy River Watershed and the Superior National Forest.”

The Trump administration has been criticized for fast-tracking the review of projects and for giving back mineral leases to Twin Metals that were rescinded in the final days of the Obama administration.

It’s unclear if any of those iron ore mines will go through the mine proposal process in the next year for any sort of expansion. ArcelorMittal and U.S. Steel declined to comment on the bill and a question on whether they anticipated filing any new mine plans in the next year.

But in an emailed statement, Cliffs applauded Stauber’s response to McCollum’s bill.
Twin Metals, the company behind the proposed mine targeted by the bill, said it opposed the bill.

“The proposed legislation attempts to delay the development of mining projects in northern Minnesota and ignores today’s urgent need and growing demand for these critical metals,” Twin Metals spokesperson Kathy Graul said in a statement. “This legislation would be devastating to the economic future of our state and to a myriad of industries that depend on its mineral deposits.”

 

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