Politicians Subvert Federal Approval Process
Executives from Antofagasta Minerals flew to Washington, D.C., during May to meet with Minnesota lawmakers about the company’s proposed Twin Metals copper mine. Antofagasta owns Twin Metals Minnesota (TMM), which hopes to open a copper mine south of Ely, Minnesota, near the Boundary Waters wilderness area. The group met with U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan, D-Crosby, who represents the region, and they reportedly gave him an update on what the company is committed to do as far as protecting the Boundary Waters. They also met U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum (D-St. Paul) and well…she was not as hospitable.
After the meeting, Rep. McCollum released the following statement: “The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and Voyageurs National Park are federal lands that must be protected. There is no evidence that sulfide-ore copper mining can be conducted in this area without permanently damaging these national treasures. While I hope that this Chilean company will reconsider its plans to conduct this damaging mining, I will continue to build support for my bill to protect these treasures—the National Park and Wilderness Waters Protection Forever Act—and urge the Obama administration to prevent sulfide-ore copper mining in this area.”
The support of federal regulatory agencies is critical to the project because they hold key access to mineral and exploration rights where TMM wants to mine. The federal and state mineral rights are administered by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR), respectively, and the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) administers federal surface that overlies both federal and state minerals. The BLM and the Department of Interior are currently deciding whether to renew some of those leases.
Earlier this year, the project made news when Gov. Mark Dayton instructed the Minnesota DNR to refuse to allow TMM onto state lands to conduct preliminary work on the project. Dayton also sent letters to federal offi cials saying he opposed the Twin Metals project because of its proximity to the Boundary Waters. Dayton’s position angered miners on Minnesota’s Iron Range, and regional politicians have tried unsuccessfully to convince the governor to reconsider.
TMM completed the project’s prefeasibility study (PFS) in June 2014. The PFS evaluates signifi cant project details such as environmental protection strategies. These details, according to TMM, will eventually form a Mine Plan of Operation (MPO) that will be submitted to state and federal regulatory agencies for environmental review. At the current pace of permitting in the U.S., it could be seven years before the company gets approval if everything works its way.
Once the company receives approval, they believe they can build the mine and mill in about three years at a capital cost of $2.8 billion. This would be the state’s largest proposed private construction investment ever. The mine would employ 850 miners, who would produce and process 50,000 tons per day over the course of 30 years. The company has already invested more than $250 million to date.
No matter how a person feels about mining and the Boundary Waters, what Dayton and McCollum have done here—denying access to state lands and lobbying the federal government to refuse to renew mineral leases—is wrong. It’s beyond the customary regulatory overreach of this administration. Federal regulators should follow the rules and allow the process to operate as intended.
Steve Fiscor, Editor-in-Chief, E&MJ