The Mercury News Weekend
Biden administration sets mining ban for Minnesota site
The Biden administration Thursday said it will establish a 20year moratorium on mining upstream from Minnesota's Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, a vast preserve of lakes and woods that has been at the center of a fierce dispute over a proposed copper and nickel mine.
The plan withdraws from mineral leasing about 225,504 acres of watershed in the Superior National Forest. It could doom a proposed bid from Twin Metals Minnesota LLC, which had sought to build an underground mine in Ely, at the doorstep of the wilderness area. The Biden administration had already canceled the company's two federal minerals-rights leases, and the new move drastically reduces the chance that the project will be revived.
The company has sued to reinstate the leases, which are critical to its $1.7 billion project, and the moratorium is expected to trigger fresh legal action. Meanwhile Republicans, who now control the House, are seeking to ease federal rules for the mine permitting process, an effort that could also complicate the administration's plans.
Deb Haaland, secretary of the Interior Department, signed the moratorium into effect early Thursday. She said in a statement the decision came after scientific review, as well as discussions with local and tribal groups, which concluded mining posed a potential for irreparable harm to the pristine Rainey River watershed, hunting and fishing rights held by the Chippewa tribes, and ecology that has created a $540 million annual outdoor tourism industry in the area.
“Protecting a place like Boundary Waters is key to supporting the health of the watershed and its surrounding wildlife, upholding our tribal trust and treaty responsibilities, and boosting the local recreation economy,” Haaland said.
Twin Metals, which is owned by Antofagasta, a Chilean mining company, issued a statement saying it was “deeply disappointed and stunned” by the decision.