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Trump Administration Renews Twin Metals Mineral Leases

Updated: May 15, 2019 06:25 PM

The Bureau of Land Management has renewed mineral rights leases for the proposed Twin Metals copper-nickel mine near Ely.

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The BLM first announced its plans to formally renew the leases in December. That came after the Trump administration lifted a roadblock to renewing the leases that was imposed late during the Obama administration, which cited the risks of acid mine drainage to the nearby Boundary Waters Canoe Area.

The bureau said in December that it planned to impose updated stipulations on the leases from the U.S. Forest Service to mitigate risks to water resources and wilderness areas.

"Under President Trump’s leadership and direction from the Secretary, this action may reduce the vulnerability to disruption of critical mineral supplies if it leads to the development and production of critical minerals in an environmentally responsible, regulatory-consistent, and economically feasible manner. Mining strategic metals in the United States is beneficial to national security, national and local economies, and job creation," Assistant Secretary for Land and Minerals Management Joe Balash said in a news release.

Twin Metals still has to submit a formal mine plan, go through an environmental review, and obtain permits before beginning construction. The company said Wednesday that it will submit its mine proposal in the coming months.

"This lease renewal is a critical step to allow us to present a proposal for our underground mine project," said Kelly Osborne, Twin Metals chief executive officer, in a news release. "It’s very good news for us and for the communities in northeastern Minnesota who look forward to the hundreds of jobs and major economic development this mine will bring."

Republican Congressmen Pete Stauber and Tom Emmer were present as Balash signed the leases Wednesday.

"With 21st century technology, we can responsibly develop the resources needed for the modern world and unleash the economic engine of northeastern Minnesota. Unfortunately, misinformed policies of the past have not only prevented the responsible development of our resources but have even prohibited companies like Twin Metals from even submitting a proposed mining plan," Stauber said in a news release.

Babbitt Mayor Andrea Zupancich acknowledges that the mine itself is still a ways down the road, but she sees the renewal of the leases as a big step forward. "That's something that we're just pushing a lot, is just to allow them to go through the process. We don't want anything bad in our yards either, but we want them to go through the process," Zupancich said. "We know technology has changed, and it's been proven in other mines, so we're hoping that they get that chance, too."

However, Tom Landwehr, the executive director of the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters, called the signing of the leases an "assault" on the BWCA and said the BLM's review was insufficient.

"In 2016 the Forest Service concluded that sulfide-ore copper mining posed 'an inherent risk of irreparable harm to an irreplaceable Wilderness' and last year the Trump Administration cancelled a study that would have confirmed this. It is now more clear than ever that the Trump Administration is steamrolling the American people and allowing a foreign mining company to write the rules when it comes to America’s most popular Wilderness," Landwehr said in a news release.

Several environmental groups are suing to quash the leases.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Copyright 2019 WDIO-TV LLC, a Hubbard Broadcasting Company. All rights reserved

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