Today, the Biden administration announced the cancellation of two federal mineral leases that were unlawfully renewed in 2019. The cancellation represents a win for the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW), and a blow to Chilean copper mining multinational Antofagasta PLC, which owns Twin Metals Minnesota. Twin Metals’ proposed sulfide-ore copper mine, which would have been located on the edge of the BWCAW, is no longer possible since without the two federal mineral leases Twin Metals has no federal minerals to mine.
Watch our recorded update webinar with National Campaign Chair Becky Rom and Senior Legal Director of The Wilderness Society, Alison Flint.
In a press release, the Department of Interior (DOI) said it determined that the expired Twin Metals leases were unlawfully renewed by the prior administration. This renewal violated federal laws and regulations, including the two federal statutes that require the DOI to obtain U.S. Forest Service consent before leasing federal minerals on National Forest lands in Minnesota. In 2016, the U.S. Forest Service withheld its consent to the Twin Metals leases because of the risk that sulfide-ore copper mining upstream would pose to the BWCAW; this decision still stands. The DOI Solicitor’s Office issued a legal opinion that underpins today’s announcement.
What does this mean for the fight to permanently protect the Boundary Waters?
There are three major implications of this announcement on the effort to save this one-of-a-kind landscape:
- The Twin Metals project is OVER.
With your help, we’ve put a stop to the Twin Metals project. Without these federal mineral leases, Twin Metals has no claim on any of the minerals within the watershed of the Boundary Waters.
- Because of the “Mineral Withdrawal” process currently underway, Twin Metals cannot apply for new mineral leases.
The Biden administration is currently considering whether mining in the watershed of the Boundary Waters should be banned. In October it announced the initiation of a mineral withdrawal process that could lead to a ban on mining for up to 20 years. That process results in an environmental study of the impact of sulfide-ore mining on the Boundary Waters and surrounding communities. The Biden administration announced today that Twin Metals cannot reapply for federal mineral leases in the watershed of the BWCAW at this time because of the initiation of the mineral withdrawal process.
- While the most immediate mining threat to the Boundary Waters is gone, the watershed of this Wilderness still needs permanent protection.
U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum has introduced legislation to protect the Boundary Waters by permanently banning sulfide-ore mining on federal lands within the Wilderness watershed. A state counterpart to McColloum's bill, authored by State Sen. Steve Cwodzinski and State Rep. Kelly Morrison, would ban sulfide-ore mining on state lands in the Wilderness watershed.