The Biden administration kills the proposed NorthMet/NewRange copper-nickel mine

On Tuesday, June 6, 2023, the Biden administration’s Army Corp of Engineers revoked the Clean Water Act Section 404 permit issued in 2019 for the proposed NorthMet/NewRange copper-nickel mine in northern Minnesota, dealing a critical setback to the mining operation.

While NewRange (a company formed by a recent merger between PolyMet Mining and Teck) can resubmit a new application for a wetlands permit or challenge the decision in federal court, the project is effectively dead for the immediate future.

This decision by the Biden administration is a blow to the economic hopes of residents of northeastern Minnesota, and it is also bad for the environment.

Lost economic opportunity

The Biden administration’s actions mean that the 350 full-time permanent jobs that would have been created by the NorthMet mine are now off the table. But this number doesn’t tell the whole story.

Mining jobs are critical to the economy of northeastern Minnesota because they pay so well. Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics show the average wages for a metal mining job in St. Louis County, Minnesota, were 5.65 times higher than those in the tourism and hospitality industries in 2019, meaning mining jobs are able to support far more economic activity throughout the regional economy.

American Experiment’s 2020 report Updating Prosperity, found that for every direct job in the mining industry that was created, another 3.18 jobs would be created or supported in the broader Minnesota economy at mining supply and support companies or at local businesses as miners spend their money at grocery stores, bakeries, and barbershops.

This brings the total job losses from this decision to over 1,100 new jobs on the Iron Range.

An environmentally unfriendly decision

Not only does the Biden administration’s decision harm Northern Minnesota’s economy, but it is also bad for the environment.

The NorthMet mine would be located at the former LTV Taconite facility. NewRange plans to build a water treatment facility at the processing plant that will reduce the number of sulfates entering the St. Louis watershed by 1,400 tons per year, and result in a net reduction of pre-existing mercury loading into the river system, according to a NewRange press release.

We will have more to come in the following weeks about the impact this decision will have throughout northeastern Minnesota, but in the meantime, the administration’s decision to cancel the Twin Metals leases and NorthMet permits is a good reminder that elections have consequences, as unpleasant as they may be.