The Biden administration on Wednesday launched a review that could prevent the Chinese mining giant from building a 1.7 billion underground copper-nickel mine just a few miles from the Water Canoe Area Wilderness on the Minnesota border.
The Department of the Interior is considering an application by the U.S. Forest Service for a 20-year mining ban on more than 200,000 acres of national forest south of the border. As part of that process, federal agencies will conduct a two-year study of the potential effects on natural and cultural resources. During that time, no new mining activities were banned.
Home Secretary Dev Haland said in a statement that places like border waters should be enjoyed and protected for all, not just today, but for future generations. “Today the Biden administration is taking an important and wise step to ensure that we have all the science and public input we need to make informed decisions about how mining activities can affect this particular place.”
Twin Metal Minnesota, a wholly owned subsidiary of Chilean mining giant Antofagastar, has a pair of 16-year mineral leases. In the last weeks of President Barack Obama’s administration, federal agencies withdrew twin metal leases, citing concerns that the mine could destroy the desert and damage the area’s outdoor entertainment industry. The Obama administration has ordered a similar review of potential environmental impacts.
The Trump administration, however, quickly revived the project, completed the Obama-era study, and renewed the lease of Twin Metal in May 2001. Behind the mine is the Trump family’s relationship with Chilean billionaire Andreniko Lucik.
The company said in a statement on Wednesday that it was “deeply disappointed” by the announcement.
“We are working to determine the best way to continue the progress of our proposed world-class underground copper, nickel, cobalt and platinum group metal mining,” it said.
Environmentalists vehemently oppose the project, arguing that it could permanently pollute 1.09 million acres of border water – the country’s most visited desert region. The process of extracting sulfide-bearing minerals such as copper and nickel can lead to acid mine extraction that can last indefinitely.
The twin metals retain their design and “unique geology” will prevent acid mine extraction from occurring.
Democrats and environmental groups hailed Wednesday’s announcement as a victory for Boundary Waters and Science based decision making.
“You don’t allow America’s most toxic industry alongside America’s most popular wilderness,” Becky Rom, national chair of the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters, said in a statement. “Boundary Waters is a paradise of forests and water. It is an environmental wonder, a world-class outdoor destination, and an economic engine for hundreds of businesses and thousands of people. This is a great first step towards lasting security.