A proposed copper-nickel mining project just outside the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in northern Minnesota took a step forward after the Trump Administration renewed its mineral exploration leases.
The lease renewal gives Twin Metals, owned by Chilean mining giant Antofagasta, permission to explore a large area of national forest land nine miles southeast of Ely for copper-nickel reserves.
The Obama Administration had mothballed the lease renewal pending an environmental review, but Twin Metals is now in possession of a 10-year lease to explore the area, with a view of opening a new mining facility.
Minnesota's 6th and 8th District congressmen, Reps. Tom Emmer and Pete Stauber, were alongside Department of Interior Assistant Secretary Joe Balash as he signed the leases on Tuesday.
Twin Metals says the lease renewal is a "critical step" as the company prepares to submit its plans for the $3 billion underground mine project to Minnesota and federal authorities.
"It's very good news for us and for the communities in Northeastern Minnesota who look forward to the hundreds of jobs and major economic development this mine will bring," said Twin Metals CEO Kelly Osborne.
In a statement after the signing, Rep. Stauber said the project has been too long delayed because of "misinformed policies of the past," and says the Twin Metals project will "meet or exceed all environmental standards."
Jobs for Minnesotans estimates that the Twin Metals projects will create 650 direct jobs, and bring 1,200 "spinoff jobs" to the region.
While the project is expected to provide an economic benefit to the northeastern Minnesota economy, it has prompted opposition due to its proximity to the unspoiled wilderness of the Boundary Waters.
Tom Landwehr, the executive director of the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters, says the decision by the government is "a continuation of the Trump Administration’s assault on the Boundary Waters Wilderness."
"In 2016 the Forest Service concluded that sulfide-ore copper mining posed ‘an inherent risk of irreparable harm to an irreplaceable Wilderness’ and last year the Trump Administration cancelled a study that would have confirmed this," he said.
"It is now more clear than ever that the Trump Administration is steamrolling the American people and allowing a foreign mining company to write the rules when it comes to America’s most popular Wilderness."