Biden administration: Ban on mineral exploration and mining near BWCA watershed

A decision to ban mining in the watershed of the Boundary Waters from the Biden administration on Thursday. This would impact Twin Metals, which is proposing to build an underground copper nickel mine near Ely.

Public Land Order 7917 withdraws approximately 225,504 acres in the Superior National Forest from disposition under the United States mineral and geothermal leasing laws for a 20-year period, subject to valid existing rights. This action will help protect the Rainy River watershed, including the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and the 1854 Ceded Territory of the Chippewa Bands, from the potential adverse impacts of new mineral and geothermal exploration and development.

Thursday’s announcement comes after the Department of Interior revoked long held leases for Twin Metals. That was a year ago, in January of 2022. Then, in June of 2022, the release of a draft environmental assessment for the proposed 20-year ban on 225,000 acre of federal lands in the watershed of the BWCA.

Biden was Vice President with President Obama when that administration started moving ahead with a mineral withdrawal and proposed mining ban in 2016. When President Trump took office, he stopped that process.

Countless meetings and public comments have been part of this back and forth.

Thursday’s public land order withdrawing portions of the Superior National Forest from operation of the mineral and geothermal leasing laws, subject to valid existing rights, is authorized by the Federal Land Policy and Management Act. The Secretary of the Interior has the authority to withdraw this area for a maximum of 20 years, subject to renewal. Only Congress can legislate a permanent withdrawal.

Twin Metals sent a statement: Twin Metals Minnesota is deeply disappointed and stunned that the federal government has chosen to enact a 20-year moratorium on mining across a quarter million acres of land in northeast Minnesota. This region sits on top of one of the world’s largest deposits of critical minerals that are vital in meeting our nation’s goals to transition to a clean energy future, to create American jobs, to strengthen our national security and to bolster domestic supply chains. We believe our project plays a critical role in addressing all of these priorities, and we remain committed to enforcing Twin Metals’ rights.

Both sides of the mining issue are weighing in.

Becky Rom, chair of the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters said, “Today’s science-based decision is a massive win for Boundary Waters protection,” said Becky Rom, National Chair of the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters. “You don’t allow America’s most toxic industry next to America’s most popular Wilderness. The Boundary Waters is a paradise of woods and water. It is an ecological marvel, a world-class outdoor destination, and an economic engine for hundreds of businesses and many thousands of people. This decision moves America ever closer to permanently protecting this beloved Wilderness.”

Jobs for Minnesotans said: “Jobs for Minnesotans is outraged by the federal government’s irresponsible and arbitrary action today which replaces the review of specific and detailed mining project proposals with a generic 20-year mining ban in the region. At the same time, the Biden Administration has set ambitious timetables to advance the clean energy transition which relies on critical minerals. Closer to home, Governor Walz and the Minnesota legislature are advancing legislation to achieve 100% carbon free energy by 2040.

“This action begs the question: why doesn’t the government have confidence in its own agencies’ ability to review proposed specific projects?” asked David Chura, Jobs for Minnesotans Chair