The Interior Department has renewed two controversial mining leases for Ivanka Trump’s billionaire Chilean landlord despite significant fears the operation will destroy a pristine Minnesota wilderness area.
The announcement Wednesday by the Bureau of Land Management is a “continuation of the Trump Administration’s assault on the Boundary Waters Wilderness,” said a statement by the nonprofit advocacy group Save The Boundary Waters. The group says the Trump administration’s environmental review of the project was “wholly insufficient to determine the impact of sulfide-ore copper mining.”
Interior Undersecretary Joe Balash said that extending the leases for 10 years “balances” conservation policies with the “need to produce minerals that add value to the lives of all Americans.”
Minnesota businesses and environmentalists went to court to block the mining operation planned by a local subsidiary of Chilean copper conglomerate Antofagasta. The family-owned company is headed by Chilean businessman Andrónico Luksic, who bought a $5.5 million mansion in Washington shortly after Donald Trump won the presidency. Luksic now rents the 7,000-square-foot mansion to the first daughter and her husband Jared Kushner at a bargain $15,000 a month, The Wall Street Journal has reported.
The Antofagasta subsidiary plans to extract copper and nickel in a sulfide-ore mine in Minnesota’s Rainy River watershed, which drains into the popular 1.1 million acre Boundary Waters wilderness area.
Former chief ethics attorney for George W. Bush Richard Painter raised questions about the link between Luksic and his tenants on Twitter:
Painter told Newsweek earlier this month that the first daughter and Kushner “have enough money [that] they could have bought a house or rented something from somebody who wasn’t trying to get things from the U.S. government.”
Trump and Kushner “were not aware” of the link between the mining operation and their landlord, a White House official told the Journal in 2017. A spokesman for Luksic said he purchased the mansion as an investment and that renting it to the president’s family was coincidental.
Luksic’s mining operation, meant to extract copper from sulfur-bearing ore, poses a high degree of environmental risk. When exposed to oxygen or water, the ore generates toxic sulfuric acid that can pollute nearby waters. In 2016, the U.S. Forest Service warned of the “inherent risk” that sulfide-ore copper mining poses to a “unique, iconic, and irreplaceable wilderness area.”