Smith asks Biden administration to restart copper mining study

The study could impact the proposed Twin Metals Mine. The study could impact the proposed Twin Metals Mine. |  Photo: WDIO-TV file

WDIO-TV
Updated: March 26, 2021 05:31 PM
Created: March 26, 2021 05:29 PM

Sen. Tina Smith is asking the Biden administration to restart a study that could potentially impact the proposed Twin Metals Mine near Ely.

The Minnesota Democrat sent a letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Interior Secretary Deb Haaland on Friday asking them to resume a study of the safety of copper-nickel-sulfide ore mining in the Rainy River Watershed, which includes the site of the proposed Twin Metals Mine as well as the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and Voyageurs National Park.

The study had begun under the Obama administration but was cancelled during the Trump administration. It would not impact iron ore mining or the planned PolyMet mine, which is located in a different watershed.

"Mining is an important tradition in northeastern Minnesota and an ongoing source of good jobs.  At the same time, the BWCAW is a fragile and irreplaceable resource," Smith wrote, repeating a statement first made in a 2018 letter to the Trump administration that Smith said still represents her feelings.

"The decision making process regarding the proposed withdrawal must be through, complete, and unbiased—we as a country cannot afford to get this one wrong," she wrote.

Smith said the study process, which began in 2017, was supposed to have taken two years, but says she believes it could now be accomplished in less time because the process had already been started.

Smith's letter prompted a swift response from copper mining supporters, including two Republican state legislators who called the letter "anti-mining."

"Our Northern Minnesota mines already go through some of the strictest environmental regulatory standards in the entire world. Adding another additional layer of red tape for political purposes is something I completely reject," Sen. Justin Eichorn (R-Grand Rapids), who chairs the state Senate's Mining & Forestry Committee, said in a news release.

"The Senator says that mining is an important tradition in northeastern Minnesota, yet she continues to play politics with the families and jobs of our region," Rep. Spencer Igo (R-Grand Rapids) said in a news release.

Twin Metals responded to Smith's letter by saying that its proposed mine is already undergoing environmental reviews at the state and federal levels. The company noted that an Environmental Impact Statement issued by the U.S. Forest Service in 2012 said any additional potential impacts should be assessed as part of a specific mining proposal.

"Imposing an additional and non-specific study when there is already a detailed, data informed proposal in place for Twin Metals undermines trust in science and our regulatory system and will have a chilling effect on investment in Minnesota’s rural economies," the company stated in a news release.

Twin Metals says its proposed underground mine southeast of Ely would not have any acid rock drainage, would not discarge water used during processing, and would not have any toxic waste. The company said it will publicly release more data this year as part of the environmental review process.

The company says it expects to employ more than 750 people if the mine is built.

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