Jan 27, 2022 - News

What the Biden administration's Twin Metals move means for Minnesota

Department of Interior Secretary Deb Haaland. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

The Biden administration has delivered a big win to environmentalists and a potentially fatal blow to backers of a proposed copper-nickel mine near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

Driving the news: Department of Interior Secretary Deb Haaland announced on Wednesday the cancellation of a pair of federal mineral leases for the proposed Twin Metals mine in northeastern Minnesota.

  • In a statement, Haaland said a legal review found the leases "were improperly renewed" in 2019, under former President Trump's administration.

Why it matters: Without mineral leases, Twin Metals can't mine. The decision effectively kills the project for now.

Yes, but: Twin Metals, which is owned by Chilean mining company Antofagasta, plans to challenge the administration's action.

  • It called the decision "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" in a statement.

The debate, in brief: The mine would be used to extract minerals needed for everything from electric cars to smartphones. But critics worry it could contaminate the state's beloved BWCA.

How we got here: Wednesday's decision follows years of limbo and legal fights involving Twin Metals, which is in the early stages of a lengthy approval process.

  • The project got a boost a few years ago when Trump's Interior Department renewed mineral rights leases that the Obama administration had previously denied.

Flashback: Those on both sides of the issue had seen Haaland's appointment as a sign that this outcome would be likely.

What they're saying: Becky Rom, national chair of the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters, celebrated what she called "a return of the rule of law."

  • "Twin Metals leases should never have been reinstated in the first place, and this announcement should stop the Twin Metals mine threat," she said.

GOP U.S. Rep. Peter Stauber, who represents the area that includes the project site, said the action "will have devastating impacts on northern Minnesota and our nation."

  • "The Biden Administration doesn't have a plan for mineral independence," he said in a statement. "On one hand, they want massive taxpayer investments in electric vehicles, and on the other, they refuse to allow domestic mineral production as demand continues to skyrocket."

Between the lines: While much of the reaction was divided on political lines — state Democrats and environmental groups offered praise while Republicans and business groups slammed the decision — at least one labor union, LIUNA Minnesota and North Dakota, also criticized the move.

What to watch: The Biden administration has also revived a previously canceled study that could ban mining in the area for 20 years.

  • That report could come out as soon as this summer.

The bottom line: Like before, the project's ultimate fate likely lies with the courts.

avatar

Get more local stories in your inbox with Axios Twin Cities.

More Twin Cities stories