Mining near the Boundary Waters: What should happen with Twin Metals?


The U.S. Forest Service is currently in the middle of a 30-day public comment period about mining in the Iron Range.

The issue at hand: the Bureau of Land Management must decide whether or not to renew two federal mining leases with Twin Metals Minnesota. The company wants to start mining copper, nickel and other metals from land in the Superior National Forest, and needs these old leases to be renewed for that to happen.

On July 13, they're holding a public listening session in Duluth. However, some have argued that the location is inconvenient for Iron Range workers to attend, says Hometown Focus.

But a lot of politicians have already weighed in on the issue. Here's a look at what's going on, and what some people – including a former vice president from Minnesota – are saying.

Explain: What is Twin Metals?

Twin Metals is owned by Chile-based Antofagasta PLC – one of the top 10 copper producers in the world.

The Duluth News Tribune says the land where Twin Metals wants to mine covers an area southeast of Ely, north and south of Highway 1, near Birch Lake and the Kawishiwi River.

The company has already invested about $350 million in the area, according to the Herald Review.

DL-Online says Twin Metal Minnesota's leases have never been environmentally reviewed because they were issued in 1966, before environmental regulations existed.

These leases represent a small percentage of Minnesota's mining industry. According to the DNR, Twin Metals has 10 state metallic mineral leases in Lake County as of May. That's just a small fraction of the 264 total active leases with 11 different mining companies, spread across six northern counties.

What people have been saying

This week, former Vice President and Minnesota native Walter Mondale co-authored an op-ed in the New York Times urging protection from mining in Minnesota's famous wilderness area.

"There should be no copper mining anywhere near the Boundary Waters Wilderness, today or ever," Mondale and Theodore Roosevelt IV – the great-grandson of the former president – wrote in the piece.

Some Minnesota officials are divided on the issue.

DFL Gov. Mark Dayton is in favor of environmental protection steps, and released a statement last month commending the U.S. Forest Service for holding a public comment period. He wrote a letter to Twin Metals in March citing his concern to protect the Boundary Waters.

Rep. Rick Nolan, on the other hand, is supportive of the mine, saying it'll strength Minnesota's industry.

“In my judgment, the agency should promptly renew the Twin Metals leases — as they have done twice already without controversy. Now is not the time to preemptively block new mining opportunities on the Range,” the Democrat said in a statement, according to the Duluth News Tribune.

Nolan, along withDemocratic Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken, previously wrote a letter to the US Forest Service requesting a public listening session.

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