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Twin Metals can reapply for mineral leases

Trump's Interior Department reverses earlier rulings by Reagan and Obama

Marshall Helmberger
Posted 12/21/17

REGIONAL— The Trump Interior Department has reversed previous legal opinions issued by both the Reagan and Obama administrations and concluded that the Bureau of Land Management has no choice but …

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Twin Metals can reapply for mineral leases

Trump's Interior Department reverses earlier rulings by Reagan and Obama


REGIONAL— The Trump Interior Department has reversed previous legal opinions issued by both the Reagan and Obama administrations and concluded that the Bureau of Land Management has no choice but to renew mineral leases to Twin Metals for its proposed copper-nickel mine near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. The latest legal opinion would appear to pave the way for Twin Metals to reapply for two mineral leases on about 4,800 acres of the Superior National Forest, within the Kawishiwi River watershed. The opinion was drafted by Deputy Solicitor Daniel H. Jorjani, who served most recently as Director of Research at the Charles Koch Institute and Charles Koch Foundation. Charles Koch, an avowed libertarian, is one of the largest GOP funders in the country.

The decision was something of a surprise, but appeared to be a reaction to abortive attempts in the U.S. House to restore the mineral leases to Antofagasta, the Chilean copper mining giant that controls Twin Metals, and had controlled the leases until they were cancelled one year ago.

Twin Metals proposed copper-nickel mine had appeared all but dead following the actions by the Obama administration. The company can now reapply for its mineral leases, although it still faces many obstacles, including the project’s questionable financial viability. Meanwhile, the Ely-based Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters issued a statement in response, vowing to sue.

"The Interior Department's decision is a big fat Christmas gift for a giant foreign mining corporation willing to do anything to exploit the watershed of Minnesota's crown jewel wilderness,” said campaign manager Doug Niemala. “It runs contrary to fact, contrary to the law, and contrary to the views of Minnesota voters who love the Boundary Waters and rely on it for thousands of jobs, world-class hunting and fishing, and some of the cleanest water on Earth. We plan to challenge this illegal decision in court.”

Campaign chair Becky Rom said the decision is “wrong on the facts and wrong on the law…we’re going to challenge this is court and are confident we’re going to win. “

It appears that the opinion will not terminate an ongoing study of a proposed 20-year mineral withdrawal. Earlier this year Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, who oversees the U.S. Forest Service, pledged that process would proceed, and the opinion does not alter his promise. But if the federal government ultimately decides to set aside the roughly 234,000 acres of federal land from the federal mineral leasing program, it would have to carve out the lands affected by the Twin Metals lease.

While questions remained in the immediate announcement of the ruling, it appears that the decision renders a lawsuit filed by Twin Metals moot. The company had filed suit in an effort to block the Obama administration’s cancellation of the leases. A measure to restore the mineral leases through congressional action narrowly passed the House in November, but appeared to have little traction in the U.S. Senate.

Gov. Mark Dayton, who has voiced strong opposition to the Twin Metals proposal, expressed some anger with the decision. “This shameful reversal by the Trump Administration shows that big corporate money and special interest influence now rule again in Republican-controlled Washington,” the governor said. “We will have to uncover why the financial interests of a large Chilean corporation, with a terrible environmental record, has trumped the need to protect Minnesota's priceless Boundary Waters Canoe Area.”

Company officials were more sanguine as of the Timberjay’s early holiday deadline, noting that they were still reviewing the lengthy opinion. “The company will provide further comment following this review,” said company spokesperson Bob McFarlin.

The company has projected the mine could create 650 jobs and operate for at least 30 years.

And that had some GOP state lawmakers expressing support for the ruling.

"It's refreshing to have an administration that understands the importance of mining to Minnesota and the entire United States," Minnesota House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Zimmerman, said in a statement.

"This move brings Minnesota one step closer to thousands of good-paying jobs and billions in revenue that will be a boon to Northeast Minnesota's economy," state Rep. Chris Swedzinski, R-Ghent, added in the statement. "We need government at every level to be a partner and referee rather than an adversary for job-creating projects..."

Ely Mayor Chuck Novak also sees the development as a positive one. “I think it’s in line with the position I’ve maintained from the beginning. If it’s proven it can be done safely, then let’s do it. We’ll follow the science.”

Novak said he’s hopeful that the decision will mean a few more local hirings as Twin Metals begins work on its project again. “If it progresses to the EIS phase, we’ll be getting more government people coming to town, and maybe some of them will choose to live here,” he said.

Yet it appears the economic benefits of the project could be mixed, based on a number of economic analyses. Rom worries that the decision potentially guarantees years, if not decades, of continued deep divisions in Ely over the wisdom and economic benefits and downsides associated with it.

Minnesota Public Radio contributed to this report.


5 comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here

  • Marshall did you even bother to read the decision handed down by the Solicitor General for the BLM. It clearly states that the provisions in the original lease carried over to the renewal in 1989 and yet again in 2004. As stated in the original lease from 1966 Twin Metals will have exclusive rights to a third renewal. One other thing while we are at it. The Solicitor General for the BLM under Obama deleted text from the lease in an attempt to change the meaning of the requirements of renewal. Nice try but it didn't work. Take some time and read the opinion.

    Saturday, December 23, 2017 Report this

  • MarshallHelmberger

    I read the opinion in detail. I have also read the 2016 legal opinion as well a 1982 opinion written by the Reagan Interior Department which came to the same conclusion as the 2016 opinion. It is the Trump administration opinion, written by a longtime Koch Brothers staffer, that appears to be at odds with the opinions of previous administrations. I've seen no evidence that text was deleted from anything. I prefer to have facts, rather than innuendo before spouting off. I would be cautious in what you are saying.

    Saturday, December 23, 2017 Report this

  • I guess I struck a chord with you on this particular issue surrounding the mineral lease renewal for Twin Metals. Doesn't particularly feel good when you aren't winning like you are used to. This is the same feeling that those of us who have lived here our whole lives have felt since the BWCA was created in 1964. Time and again the federal government has made promises that they have not kept . First it was we will form this wilderness area ,but we will allow you motorized use in certain areas so we said ok. 1978 comes along and the federal government says we are going to limit the motorized use , but we will allow mining in the Superior National Forest. 2016 comes along and the Obama Administration on its way out the door says no we aren't going to allow that anymore and denies Twin Metals mineral leases for no reason and starts an unwarranted 2 year study and possible 20 year moratorium on mining in 435,000 acres of the Superior National Forest even though in the original mineral lease it clearly states that Twin Metals has exclusive rights to the leases for a third 10 year period as long as all requirements of the previous lease were met. Which they were by Twin Metals paying the agreed upon royalty amount. Thankfully Hillary Clinton did not win the presidential election. President Trump along with Secretary Zinke, Rep. Tom Emmer and the members of the Congressional Western Caucus have stepped up and supported our fight to bring good paying environmentally safe jobs to NE Minnesota. We for once are finally winning the fight instead of the environmental elitists.

    Saturday, December 23, 2017 Report this

  • warblerman

    I notice that Minnesota Miner changed the subject entirely. Obviously didn’t want to address the issue I raised. Seems like llots of vitriol and a little fast and loose with the innuendo.

    Sunday, December 24, 2017 Report this

  • jtormoen

    One would almost think that Mr. Miners (unless it is Ms. or Miss or Mrs.) has been coached by good old OC.

    Tuesday, January 2, 2018 Report this