In this Oct. 4, 2011 photo, a core drilled into underground rock near Ely, Minnesota shows a band of bright minerals containing copper, nickel and precious metals, center, that Twin Metals Minnesota LLC hopes operate near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in northeast Minnesota. The U.S. Forrest Service released a draft environmental assessment on Thursday, June 23, 2022, which supports a proposed 20-year moratorium on copper-nickel mining upstream of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

AP Photo/Steve Karnowski, File

ST. PAUL, Minnesota (AP) — The U.S. Forest Service on Thursday released a draft environmental assessment to lay the groundwork for a proposed 20-year moratorium on copper-nickel mining above the Boundary Waters Canoe Wilderness Area. Area.

Officially, the proposal would “opt out” of the new mining lease for 20 years over approximately 352 square miles in the Rainy River watershed in the Upper National Forest around the town of Ely. The plan threatens to doom Twin Metals’ proposed mine near Birch Lake, which empties into a river that flows into boundary waters. But that wouldn’t affect a separate project, the proposed PolyMet mine near Babbitt and Hoyt lakes, which is in a different watershed.

The Forest Service plans to begin a 30-day comment period Tuesday when it posts a notice in the Federal Register. The assessment was posted on the project’s website at go.usa.gov/xtaCw. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland will make the final decision on whether or not to approve the moratorium.

“The proposed mining checkoff is intended to prevent further adverse environmental impacts from future mining operations,” the Forest Service said in its announcement of the project. “It also assesses the impacts of future mining on important social, cultural and economic values.”

Democratic U.S. Representative Betty McCollum, who represents a district in the St. Paul area and sponsors legislation to permanently ban copper-nickel mining in that area, welcomed the study, as did environmental groups fighting the Twin Metals project for years. They say the risk of acid mine drainage poses an unacceptable threat to the nation’s most-visited federally-designated wilderness area.

McCollum said in a statement that the project “clearly indicates that copper sulfide mining in the Upper National Forest is a toxic threat to boundary waters. This pristine and precious wilderness requires permanent protection. The scientific basis of EA leaves no doubt: it is simply too risky to mine there.

But Twin Metals said in a statement that the study was “not informed by science” and contradicts the Biden administration’s goals of ensuring national accessibility of copper and other minerals needed for the economy. renewable energies.

“We remain confident that we will move this project forward, responsibly source clean energy minerals, and create 750 family jobs and 1,500 spin-off jobs in communities across northeast Minnesota,” the company said.

Republican U.S. Representative Pete Stauber, who represents northeast Minnesota, where iron mining is a major industry, said the Biden administration had ‘politicized’ the review to kill Twin Metals instead of assessing the project on its own merits.

“Biden and his fellow elitist Democrats in Washington and St. Paul are robbing my constituents of our way of life,” Stauber said in a statement. “Joe Biden has made his position clear: He would rather see foreign and child slave labor producing minerals than American unionized miners working to deliver Minnesota’s mineral wealth to the nation and the world using the best environmental and of work.”

The Forest Service first proposed the moratorium in the final days of the Obama administration, which canceled Twin Metals’ two federal mineral rights leases. The Trump administration reversed this decision and canceled the environmental assessment process. But the Biden administration revived the proposed moratorium last year and in January terminated the leases, saying they had been illegally reinstated.

Twin Metals is owned by the Chilean mining company Antofagasta. The proposed $1.7 billion underground mine was in the very early stages of the permitting process until the state Department of Natural Resources ended its own environmental review in February, citing loss by the federal leases business.

“The environmental assessment released today provides a strong scientific basis for a 20-year ban on copper mining near boundary waters,” said Becky Rom, national chair of the Campaign to Save Boundary Waters, in a statement. communicated. “It is deeply rooted in science, law, and established federal policy on public lands, and validates the concerns of local residents and the American people about the risk copper sulfide ore mining poses to the desert. .”

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