BLM to conduct environmental review of 13 prospecting permits for Twin Metals project

May 13, 2021

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) will conduct an environmental review of 13 prospecting permits issued to Twin Metals as it reconsiders its May 2020 decision to extend the permits to the copper-nickel mining company.

The Duluth News Tribune reported that a federal judge approved a settlement between the BLM and environmental groups opposed to Twin Metals that requires the federal agency to conduct an environmental assessment under the National Environmental Protection Act, while revisiting its decision to grant 13 prospecting permits, which cover more than 15,000 acres of Superior National Forest land near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, to the company.

The action stems from a June lawsuit filed by the Center for Biological Diversity, Northeastern Minnesotans for Wilderness and The Wilderness Society challenging the May 2020 permit extension that gave the copper-nickel mining company the exclusive right to explore for minerals with drilling and other methods on that federal land through April 2024. The permits do not allow the company to mine there.

The BLM in November had already offered to conduct such a review after it determined the prospecting permits' last review, in 2012, did not consider the effects on endangered species.

The settlement requires the agency to take public comment, make an “effects determination” on the permit's affect on the endangered northern long-eared bat and Canada lynx species and conduct an environmental review of the permits before it can decide whether or not to reissue them.

Twin Metals will not be allowed to conduct "surface disturbing activities" on the permit sites until the agency issues a new decision unless it is to remain in compliance with state and federal permit requirements, the settlement said.

In a separate ruling, Ramsey County District Court Judge Laura Nelson ruled that Minnesota regulators must reconsider old and largely untested rules for hard rock mining to see if they are adequate to protect the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, a judge says.

Specifically, the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) must determine whether sulfide-ore copper mining is so polluting that it should be banned in the Rainy River headwaters, an area in northern Minnesota that drains into the Boundary Waters.


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