Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

Leaked 2016 email rips Twin Metals lease decision

Marshall Helmberger
Posted 6/13/19

REGIONAL— The Trump administration is using an angry 2016 email from Sen. Amy Klobuchar to defend itself against Democrats who are investigating its renewal of mineral leases for Twin Metals and …

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Leaked 2016 email rips Twin Metals lease decision

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REGIONAL— The Trump administration is using an angry 2016 email from Sen. Amy Klobuchar to defend itself against Democrats who are investigating its renewal of mineral leases for Twin Metals and cancellation of a study of a 20-year mineral withdrawal on a portion of the Superior National Forest.

The administration has been under increasing pressure from House lawmakers in recent months to provide documents related to that investigation, including the administration’s decision to cancel a two-year study on the merits and risks of a proposed copper-nickel mine near Ely.

In an apparent effort to fight back, administration officials leaked a December 2016 email from Sen. Amy Klobuchar in which she takes then-Obama Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to task for the Forest Service’s decision to disallow the mineral lease renewal in the final weeks of the Obama administration.

A conservative Wall Street Journal columnist, Kimberly Strassel, highlighted the email last week under the headline: A Democrat Deflates a Trump “Scandal”. In it, Strassel contends that it was the Obama administration that failed to follow proper procedure when it opted not to renew the two mineral leases that were central to Twin Metals’ mine plans.

“This highly irregular decision was destined to get a fresh look from the Trump team,” writes Strassel. “The new president’s appointees at the Interior and Agricultural departments all came to office determined to restore the law and regulatory certainty. In December 2017, the new Interior principal deputy solicitor found the prior opinion fatally flawed and moved to renew Twin Metals’ leases,” Strassel added.

Klobuchar’s email serves to bolster Strassel’s contention, as Klobuchar tells Vilsack that the decision “floored me” and predicted that the Trump administration would quickly move to reverse the decision. “It should have been handled through the normal process,” argues Klobuchar. “It wasn’t.”

It’s not clear what process Klobuchar is referring to in the missive, but she said she had expected that “a thorough EPA review would have told us if it is safe or not.”

In fact, the EPA would likely serve only as a “cooperator” on any environmental review of a mine plan. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources would serve as the lead agency in any such process.

Klobuchar also references questions that she had asked several months earlier, that the administration had apparently not yet addressed. “Who cares about answering pesky questions from a woman senator from the Midwest when you guys and the White House and the activists have all the politics down, right?” Klobuchar asked somewhat sarcastically.

Klobuchar’s comments appeared to be a reaction to a Republican Party press release responding to the Obama administration decision, which accused Democrats of trying to “end mining” on the Iron Range. Klobuchar’s father grew up in Ely and she has long been a supporter of mining in the region, including the PolyMet copper-nickel proposal.

Klobuchar’s position reflected the ongoing split within the DFL Party in Minnesota over the issue of copper-nickel mining, which is widely understood to be substantially more-risky environmentally than traditional taconite mining. Her position, however, left her at odds with other prominent DFLers, like former Vice President Walter Mondale and then-Gov. Mark Dayton, who supported the termination of the mineral leases. Dayton had called the Trump administration’s reversal of the mineral lease decision proof that “big corporate money and special-interest influence now rule again.”

Klobuchar’s office was quick to respond to the fallout from the release of the email. “The Senator continues to have serious concerns about this project being so close to the Boundary Waters and has always wanted a thorough environmental review,” said Ben Hill, Klobuchar’s state director, in a statement issued to the Timberjay. “As the senator stated in the email, she did not trust the Trump Administration to handle this correctly and rightfully predicted they would overturn the lame duck decision -- and if anything she feared that this strategy would actually politicize the project and decrease the possibility of it getting a good and fair scientific review.”

Klobuchar has also called on the Trump administration to release the scientific data that it used to justify halting the two-year study of the proposed mineral leasing withdrawal. “[Sen. Klobuchar] does not believe this administration will move forward in good faith to protect the environment given their track record on environmental issues,” added Hill.

Critics of the Twin Metals proposal defended the Obama administration decision and put the target back on the more recent actions of the Trump administration. “In 2016 the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management clearly made the correct decision--based on science, public comment, and established environmental policy--to terminate Twin Metals leases,” said Becky Rom, with the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters. “The process was transparent, with public comment and two public meetings, and followed legally required processes. This stands in stark contrast to what the Trump Administration has done by unlawfully reinstating the terminated Twin Metals leases and renewing them without looking at the consequences of mining whatsoever.”

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