The Biden administration launched a review on Wednesday that could ultimately block a Chilean mining giant from constructing a $1.7 billion underground copper-nickel mine just a few miles from Minnesota’s Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.
The Interior Department is considering an application from the U.S. Forest Service for a 20-year mining ban on more than 200,000 acres of national forest land south of the Boundary Waters. As part of that process, federal agencies will conduct a two-year study of potential impacts to natural and cultural resources. During that time, no new mining activity is allowed.
“A place like the Boundary Waters should be enjoyed by and protected for everyone, not only today but for future generations,” Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland said in a statement. “Today the Biden Administration is taking an important and sensible step to ensure that we have all the science and the public input necessary to make informed decisions about how mining activities may impact this special place.”
Twin Metals Minnesota, a wholly owned subsidiary of Chilean mining giant Antofagasta, has a pair of mineral leases that date back to 1966. The company’s planned mine has long been a political lightning rod, not only in Minnesota but nationally. In the final weeks of President Barack Obama’s administration, federal agencies revoked Twin Metals’ leases, citing concerns that the mine could spoil the wilderness and harm the area’s outdoor recreation industry. The Obama administration ordered a similar review of potential environmental impacts.
The Trump administration, however, quickly revived the project, ending the Obama-era study and renewing Twin Metals’ leases in May 2019. The Trump family has ties to Andrónico Luksic, the Chilean billionaire behind the mine.
The company said in a statement Wednesday it was “deeply disappointed” by the announcement.
“We are working to determine the best path forward to continue advancing our proposed world-class underground copper, nickel, cobalt and platinum group metals mine,” it said.
Environmentalists fiercely oppose the project, arguing it could forever pollute the 1.09 million acre Boundary Waters downstream — the most visited wilderness area in the country. The process of extracting sulfide-bearing minerals like copper and nickel can lead to acid mine drainage that can persist indefinitely.
Twin Metals maintains its design and the “unique geology” will prevent acid mine drainage from occurring.
“You don’t allow America’s most toxic industry next to America’s most popular Wilderness,” Becky Rom, national chair of the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters, said in a statement. “The Boundary Waters is a paradise of woods and water. It is an ecological marvel, a world-class outdoor destination, and an economic engine for hundreds of businesses and many thousands of people. This is a great first step on the pathway to permanent protection.”