Feds Renew Leases for Mining in Minnesota Wilderness

MINNEAPOLIS (CN) – The U.S. Interior Department rescinded an Obama administration decision and reinstated mineral leases for a company that plans to build a copper-nickel mine in northeastern Minnesota.

Twin Metals Minnesota was informed in a three-page letter Wednesday that its two federal mineral leases will be reinstated.

The two leases were originally issued in 1966 and most recently renewed in 2004, but no mineral production has occurred on either lease even though both allowed the mining of copper, nickel and associated minerals on the leased lands.

On Dec. 15, 2016, the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management, or BLM, denied the renewal of the leases, which covers more than 1 million acres of federally protected lakes and forests near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and Voyageurs National Park.

Twin Metals had proposed a copper-nickel mine but that plan was brought to a halt when the BLM rejected its renewal application during the last weeks of the Obama administration.

But Wednesday’s reinstatement under the Trump administration reverses the BLM’s prior rejection and allows Twin Metals to renew the leases.

BLM concluded that Twin Metals has the right to renew its leases, which were first issued in 1966 with a right of unlimited, successive 10-year renewals.

In its letter to Twin Metals, BLM said it would treat the reinstated leases as if the December 2016 decision to reject them was never issued.

Twin Metals said in a statement that it is pleased with the Interior Department’s decision, calling the reinstatement of the leases “an important step.”

“Today’s reinstatement will also allow Twin Metals to resume environmental study and project development activities on the federal leases yet this summer. Twin Metals looks forward to working with federal agencies in the coming months to complete the proper process of renewing the company’s federal leases,” the company said.

However, Doug Niemela, national campaign manager for the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters, said in a statement that the reinstatement decision was “a setback but by no means a surprise” and it “sends the message that our public lands next to our precious Boundary Waters are open to dangerous sulfide-ore copper mining.”

“This decision is an immediate threat to our clean water, wildlife, public health and the strong northern economy and will not go unchallenged; reinstating these expired leases is unlawful and contrary to longstanding mineral leasing policy. We intend to pursue legal actions against this decision,” Niemela said.

Interior Department spokeswoman Heather Swift said in an email to the Associated Press that the reinstated leases will remain in effect until the bureau processes Twin Metal’s lease renewal application.

As of now, Twin Metals can resume its planning work but is not yet authorized to conduct mining, according to Swift.

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