Biden administration cancels two mineral leases for Twin Metals Minnesota
Two mineral licenses held by Twin Metals Minnesota and its predecessor companies for more than 50 years have been canceled by the Biden administration.
The move to cancel the leases deals a potentially fatal blow to the company’s bid to build an underground mine for copper, nickel and precious metals on the doorstep of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.
Those leases, located along Birch Lake in the Superior National Forest, about 7 miles east of Ely and just south of the BWCA, are critical to Twin Metals’ plans. They’re required for the company to access the valuable minerals underground.
Minnesota Public Radio reported that the Department of the Interior took the action after determining that the leases were improperly renewed by the Trump administration in 2019.
“The Department of the Interior takes seriously our obligations to steward public lands and waters on behalf of all Americans. We must be consistent in how we apply lease terms to ensure that no lessee receives special treatment,” said Interior Secretary Deb Haaland in a statement.
“After a careful legal review, we found the leases were improperly renewed in violation of applicable statutes and regulations, and we are taking action to cancel them.”
Twin Metals responded in a statement saying the decision, “is disappointing, but not surprising given the series of actions the administration has taken to try and shut the door on copper-nickel mining in northeast Minnesota. We will challenge this attempt to stop our project and defend our valid existing mineral rights. We expect to prevail.
“This is not about law; this is a political action intended to stop the Twin Metals project without conducting the environmental review prescribed in law. We have proposed a world-class underground copper, nickel, cobalt and platinum group metals mine that deserves to be evaluated through the established environmental review process,” the company said.
It is the latest in a long legal back and forth over the mineral leases that’s spanned three administrations.
In December 2016, the Obama administration declined to renew the two leases, after a legal opinion from the Department of Interior held that Twin Metals did not have an automatic right to renew those leases, which date back to 1966.
But the following year, the Trump administration issued a differing legal opinion, saying the government didn’t have the power to deny Twin Metals its leases. The Bureau of Land Management subsequently reinstated the leases and then renewed them for an additional ten years.
With those leases in hand, Twin Metals formally proposed its mining plans in 2019, a step that kicked off a multi-year environmental review and permitting process by state and federal regulators.
“Our proposal, submitted more than two years ago to state and federal agencies, was the culmination of more than a decade of engineering, hydrogeological, environmental and engagement work that maximize environmental protection,” Twin Metals said in a statement. “We are confident that a full environmental review will show that the science behind this modern mine will prove that we can advance this project safely under the highest of standards.”
But the future of those plans is in serious doubt with this announcement from the Biden administration, which comes after a new legal opinion that overturns the Trump administration’s actions.
But Twin Metals and its supporters say the project would create hundreds of high-paying jobs, contribute billions of dollars to the regional economy and provide important metals that are needed to build wind turbines, electric vehicle batteries and other technologies critical to a green economy.
“Our commitment to the communities of northeast Minnesota and to advancing a sustainable mining project has not waivered. We are firmly dedicated to bringing much-needed economic growth to our region and the opportunity to responsibly develop the critical minerals needed for our global efforts in combatting the climate crisis,” Twin Metals wrote.
“The administration’s decision to withdrawal Twin Metals’ mineral leases – long held leases that were first issued more than five decades ago – contradicts and will obstruct the realization of the goals established in its own stated jobs, economic, climate, infrastructure and supply chain agendas,” the National Mining Association said in a statement. “Our nation’s supply chain vulnerabilities are significant and growing. Decisions such as this one will only deepen our heavy dependency on foreign sources for the minerals that we could be sourcing here at home, in accordance with the world’s top environmental and labor standards. In fact, the Twin Metals project could supply decades worth of copper, nickel, cobalt and platinum group metals. These are the same minerals needed for the clean energy transition and severe supply constraints are forecast. This decision is disappointing and foreshadows a global economic, energy, manufacturing and overarching supply chain race where the U.S. may be watching from the sidelines. ”