Biden admin cancels mining leases near Boundary Waters

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The Biden administration today canceled two leases for a hotly contested copper-nickel mine in northern Minnesota that were reinstated under former President Trump.

The Interior Department’s actions nullify the two mining concessions held by Twin Metals Minnesota LLC, a subsidiary of Chilean mining company Antofagasta PLC. The Twin Metals project would extract copper, nickel and other raw materials near Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, a popular place for recreation and tourism near the Canadian border.

Interior had refused to renew decades-old leases in 2016 and had proposed banning mining near Boundary Waters, citing the risk copper sulphide mining could pose to the surrounding ecosystem.

That decision was overturned by the Trump administration after acting interior lawyer Daniel Jorjani issued a legal opinion declaring the leases valid. The ministry then granted a 10-year extension on the leases.

Trump’s decision on the Twin Metals leases has now been overturned by a memo from the Home Attorney’s Office quashing Jorjani’s opinion.

“I withdraw the Jorjani M-Opinion,” said the memo from Senior Assistant Interior Counsel Ann Marie Bledsoe Downes, “which is flawed and has spurred poor renewal decisions.”

In a statement posted on its website, Twin Metals Minnesota pledged to “contest the attempt to shut down our project and defend our valid existing mineral rights.”

“We expect to prevail,” the company said.

In October, the Biden administration took initial steps to protect Boundary Waters from mining, launching a process to issue a 20-year mineral levy for the area. But this decision did not affect the two leases of Twin Metals (Greenwire, October 20, 2021).

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