Twin Metals view: Copper-nickel mining offers promising economic future

By Bob McFarlin on Jul 16, 2016 at 11:00 p.m (Duluth News Tribune)

Twin Metals Minnesota is proud to be pursuing the development and operation of a future environmentally responsible underground copper-nickel mining project in Northeastern Minnesota. The Twin Metals project, and similar projects in the region, offer generations of Minnesotans the promise of thousands of good-paying jobs, billions of dollars in local investment, and billions more in revenue to Minnesota schools through the state School Trust Fund. Minnesota’s vast copper and nickel resources are also critical to the nation’s economy and security, supporting the infrastructure, manufacturing, technology and green-energy sectors.

The Twin Metals project is located in an area of the Superior National Forest where mining is both allowed and encouraged under state and federal law. Twin Metals is in the early stages of project development, with a target of 2018 for proposing project details to state and federal agencies for environmental review. Twin Metals has invested approximately $350 million to date, supporting hundreds of local jobs in the construction, drilling, engineering, geology, environmental and mineral-sciences fields.

Unfortunately, the economic promise of the Twin Metals project and the future of mining in the region are now threatened by arbitrary actions of the U.S. Forest Service. With all that is at stake for the region, the state and the nation, Minnesotans should expect — and demand — better of our federal government.

Twin Metals is seeking approval from the U.S. Bureau of Land Management for renewal of two federal mineral leases that are significant components of the future Twin Metals project. However, last month, the Forest Service publicly announced its intention to block the lease renewals — and to block all future mining opportunities in the Rainy River Basin.

The Forest Service justified its position by citing hypothetical fears about mining in the region rather than relying on science, the regulatory process or its own history of mining support. The Forest Service’s action would be devastating to the region’s economic future.

Twin Metals’ federal leases were first issued by the Bureau of Land Management in 1966. The leases have been twice renewed (1989 and 2004), both times without controversy and with the endorsement of the Forest Service. In both renewals, the Forest Service found that the leases posed no environmental threats. In 2004, for example, the Forest Service stated, “The Forest Service has no objection to the renewal. … It has been determined that (the leases) are sufficient to protect the resources of the United States.”

Further, the leases are supported by the Forest Service’s own 2004 Superior National Forest Land Management Plan, which identified mining within the forest as a “desired condition.” The plan states, “Exploration and development of mineral and mineral resources is allowed on National Forest System land, except for (federally) owned minerals in designated wilderness (the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness) and the Mining Protection Area.” The Twin Metals leases fall outside of the Boundary Waters and the Mining Protection Area, and thus are allowed. Mining activity is encouraged.

The hypothetical environmental issues raised by the Forest Service should be studied as directed by federal law through a multi-agency, science-based Environmental Impact Statement, or EIS, after Twin Metals’ project has been proposed. The federal mineral leasing process is neither the appropriate nor most effective process to assess the potential environmental impacts of a yet-to-be-proposed project.

Twin Metals is fully committed to protecting Minnesota’s wilderness, natural environment and recreational resources. When Twin Metals submits a project to state and federal agencies, the rigorous formal environmental review process will begin. Multiple government agencies, local communities and interested citizens will be integral parts of that process. The U.S. Forest Service should not pre-empt the opportunity for expert agencies and affected citizens to participate in the review process by attempting to unilaterally block the Twin Metals project before it is proposed.

Twin Metals is grateful for the support it has received from citizens, elected officials, businesses, labor and communities across Minnesota. We urge all supporters of mining in Northeastern Minnesota to contact the Forest Service and express opposition to the agency’s unwarranted proposed actions.

Bob McFarlin is government affairs adviser for Twin Metals Minnesota (twin-metals.com), working from the company’s corporate headquarters in St. Paul.

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