Enviro groups: Biden mining decision is victory for people, science

Mining or no mining?

In Northeastern Minnesota, it’s a fight that’s been going on for years.

But now, a big win for environmental groups in Minnesota is to stop mining near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area.

“This is a victory for people, it’s a victory for science,” declared Chris Knopf, the executive director of Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness. “Clean water and a mine like Twin Metals do not go together. Twin Metals was an existential threat to the boundary waters and it could not move forward.”

On Wednesday, the Biden administration canceled mineral rights leases for the proposed Twin Metals copper-nickel mine.

Those leases were initially granted by the Interior Department in 2019, under the Trump administration.

Their cancellation means that decision is reversed, and no new mining will take place.

“This type of withdrawal is extremely popular — 70% of Minnesotans support it,” says Becky Ron, the national chairperson for the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters. “It would protect an area of extremely clean waters that have very little buffering capacity to deal with acid mine rainage.”

“This is a victory for people, it’s a victory for science.”

Chris Knopf, executive director of friends of the boundary waters wilderness

Twin Metals calls the decision “disappointing but not surprising.”

In a statement, the company calls the lease cancellation “a political action intended to stop the project without conducting the environmental review prescribed by law.”

“My reaction plain and simple is outrage,” says Brian Hanson, the chairman of Jobs For Minnesota — a group representing business and labor supporting the mines. “I feel like this is an ongoing and continuing attack on mining in Northeast Minnesota.”

Hanson says if approved, the project would have supported 750 well-paying jobs — and would have environmental protections in place.

“You have a lot of concerns about water moving through the bedrock here,” he says. “There is no water down there, it’s all bedrock.”

Hanson says Twin Metals has spent a half-billion dollars exploring the reserve— and that any waste materials would be stored underground, away from groundwater sources.

“There is no presence of groundwater so there’s no toxic metals to go into the groundwater,” he says. “The only kind of ponding that you would see from my reading of the mine plant would be like normal runoff from a building, etc., that you would have outside of a mall.”

Several Republicans have slammed the decision, including Minnesota Congressman Pete Stauber.

In a statement, he says in part, “canceling these long-standing mineral leases will have devastating impacts on Northern Minnesota and our nation.”

Twin Metals says it plans to fight the decision.

Hanson adds he believes that right will end up in court — and that the leases will be reinstated.

Right now, there’s no timeline.

But Jamie Williams, president of the Wilderness Society, is among those who say they fear a pipeline spill or other accidental release — and are pleased about today’s decision.

“The Interior Department’s decision about the illegally renewed mining leases is a big victory for the Boundary Waters and for the people who love them,” he says. “It represents an important step forward in ensuring the nation’s most national treasures.”