Feds keep proposed Minnesota copper mine plan alive

Opponents of the mining plan cite the potential for irreparable harm to the pristine Boundary Waters Canoe Wilderness Area. (Photo by Brian Peterson)

ST. PAUL, Minn. — President Donald Trump’s administration has resurrected an effort to build a proposed copper-nickel mine near the Boundary Waters Canoe Wilderness Area in northeastern Minnesota.

In an opinion published Friday, a top attorney at the U.S. Interior Department concluded that the Bureau of Land Management erred last December when it determined that it had the power to grant or deny the lease renewals Twin Metals needs for the mine it wants to build near Ely. In declining to renew the long-standing leases, President Barack Obama’s administration had cited the potential harm to the Boundary Waters.

The reversal means the BLM and the U.S. Forest Service must reconsider Twin Metals’ 2012 lease renewal application, Minnesota Public Radio News reported.

Twin Metals said it was still reviewing the new decision. The company on Friday voluntarily dismissed a federal lawsuit it had filed seeking to invalidate the Obama administration decision.

The company has projected the mine could create 650 jobs and operate for at least 30 years. Twin Metals, which is owned by Chilean mining company Antofagasta PLC, says it has already invested $400 million in the project. Backers say the project would bring badly needed jobs to the economically struggling Iron Range; opponents cite the potential for irreparable harm to the pristine Boundary Waters Canoe Wilderness Area from acid mine drainage

State lawmakers who support the mine applauded the Friday opinion.

“It’s refreshing to have an administration that understands the importance of mining to Minnesota and the entire United States,” Republican House Speaker Kurt Daudt said in a statement.

Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton criticized the Interior Department decision.

“This shameful reversal by the Trump Administration shows that big corporate money and special interest influence now rule again in Republican-controlled Washington,” Dayton said in a statement.

National campaign manager Doug Niemela of Save the Boundary Waters called the Interior Department’s decision “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.”

Niemela said the group plans to challenge the decision in court.

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