ELY, Minn. (CN) – The Trump administration on Thursday lifted a major roadblock to mineral leasing for copper-nickel mining in national forests near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wildness in northeastern Minnesota.
In 2016, at the direction of the Obama administration, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service withdrew approximately 234,000 acres of land from mineral leasing and exploration until it undertook an environmental review about the biological and economic impacts of proposed mining work.
On Thursday, the USDA canceled the review, paving the way for mineral leasing renewals and potential mining operations. In a statement, the agency said that over the last 15 months, the Forest Service conducted an extensive review and “the analysis did not reveal new scientific information.”
“It’s our duty as responsible stewards of our environment to maintain and protect our natural resources. At the same time, we must put our national forests to work for the taxpayers to support local economies and create jobs,” Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue said. “We can do these two things at once: protect the integrity of the watershed and contribute to economic growth and stronger communities.”
In May, the U.S. Interior Department reinstated mineral leases for Chilean-owned company Twin Metals Minnesota, which intends to build copper-nickel mines near lakes and forests by the BWCA and Voyageurs National Park.
Twin Metals Minnesota said the federal government’s actions offer the Iron Range region the opportunity for new jobs and billions of dollars in economic growth.
“Today’s action also reinforces that long-standing environmental protection standards and rigorous regulatory processes, both at the state and federal level, are the proper and valid means for evaluating mining proposals when specific project plans are formally submitted,” CEO Kelly Osborne said in a statement.
Opponents of the decision, including BWCA advocacy group Save the Boundary Waters, said the Trump administration ignored science and facts and did not complete the Obama-era study on the detrimental impacts of sulfide-ore copper mining to the environment.
Alex Falconer, executive director of the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters, said in a statement that the White House “broke its word to us, to Congress, and to the American people.”
“This is nothing less than a giveaway by the administration to a foreign mining conglomerate whose owner just happens to be Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner’s landlord,” Falconer said. “It’s clear whose interest this administration is really serving, and it’s not that of the American people.”
In June, conservationists sued the federal government in Washington, D.C., federal court over Twin Metals Minnesota’s lease renewals. The environmentalists allege that sulfide-ore copper mining is “the leading generator of toxic waste in the nation.”