Another Obama Era Obstacle to MN Mining Bites the Dust

The federal government took another step this week to roll back the Obama administration’s last-ditch effort to sabotage responsible mineral development on the Iron Range for decades. The Forest Service announced it will require an environmental review of the potential impact of copper mining in the BWCA, rather than an environmental impact statement. There’s a big difference, reports the Duluth Tribune.

The results of the environmental review are intended to help federal officials decide if about 234,000 acres near the wilderness would be off-limits to all mining activity for 20 years. If the decision is no, mining exploration activities could resume in the area as early as January 2019.

Friday’s decision by the Trump administration is another push forward for the proposed Twin Metals copper mine along the Kawishiwi River near Ely, on the edge of the BWCAW. In December, the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management said it would give back to Twin Metals federal mineral leases that had been ordered withheld one year ago under the Obama administration. Without access to those minerals the project, just off Minnesota Highway 1, likely would have been dead.

A far more intensive environmental review will be required if and when Twin Metals submits a specific proposal to mine for copper and other minerals.

Twin Metals and mining supporters said the company should be given the chance to develop its proposal, submit the plan for environmental review and apply for permits based on its own merits, not a generic opposition to mining near the BWCAW.

“They’ve concluded what we’ve been saying all along. There is no significant impact you can measure until there’s a specific project proposed, and there is no project proposed at this point,” said Frank Ongaro, executive director of Mining Minnesota, the copper industry trade group. “This is an important step in the right direction. But they should really just rescind the entire study and let it go.”

As usual, environmental hardliners criticized the decision to reinstate the regulatory process in place before the Obama administration’s last-minute intervention. So did Gov. Mark Dayton in an over-the-top response in the Star Tribune.

“It’s terrible that the Trump Administration is putting the financial interests of the Chilean mining conglomerate, Antofagasta, ahead of protecting the Boundary Waters Canoe Area for generations of Minnesotans and other Americans,” Dayton said in a statement Friday. “The Administration is downgrading its analysis … and, shamefully, exempting from that review Antofagasta’s proposed underground mine directly adjacent to the iconic wilderness area.”

Dayton’s opposition to responsible mining illustrates the split in the DFL over responsible economic development on the Range. The House of Representatives recently passed a bill that would also end the moratorium on mineral exploration, but the Senate has yet to take up the legislation. The potential value of the project on the line? More than $1.5 billion.

Twin Metals has released results from minerals exploration saying the massive underground mine would produce about 20,000 tons of ore per day, employ about 650 people and produce valuable minerals for at least 30 years — including billions of pounds of copper and nickel along with platinum, palladium, gold and silver