The Biden administration has banned mining and geothermal exploration in more than 225,000 acres of forest in Minnesota’s Rainy River watershed, including the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.
Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland said the land deserved to be shielded from consideration for economic development.
“The Department of the Interior takes seriously our obligations to steward public lands and waters on behalf of all Americans. Protecting a place like Boundary Waters is key to supporting the health of the watershed and its surrounding wildlife,” Ms. Haaland said.
The Boundary Waters area is crucial to the local recreation economy. More than 150,000 visitors arrive yearly to partake in canoeing, hiking, and camping, bringing in around $17.4 million yearly to local counties.
One of the mining companies impacted by the order is Twin Metals, a subsidiary of Chilean mining company Antofagasta PLC.
The company had rights to build a copper and nickel mine in the area, but the federal government argues those rights were voided by the January 2022 revocation of the Trump administration’s decision to reinstate mining leases in the area.
“Twin Metals Minnesota is deeply disappointed and stunned that the federal government has chosen to enact a 20-year moratorium on mining across a quarter million acres of land in northeast Minnesota,” the company said in a statement.
Twin Metals emphasized the possibility of a clean energy transition as a reason to continue allowing mining in the area.
“This region sits on top of one of the world’s largest deposits of critical minerals that are vital in meeting our nation’s goals to transition to a clean energy future … We believe our project plays a critical role in addressing all of these priorities, and we remain committed to enforcing Twin Metals’ rights,” the company said.
Environmentalists cheered Interiors’ move.
“Today’s science-based decision is a massive win for Boundary Waters protection. You don’t allow America’s most toxic industry next to America’s most popular Wilderness. The Boundary Waters is a paradise of woods and water,” said National Chair of the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters Becky Rom in a release from the group.
Former U.S. Senator Al Franken, Minnesota Democrat, concurred.
“I’ve been going to the Boundary Waters since I was a teenager and have returned throughout my life to experience its beauty,” he said. “I understand the desire and need for more economic activity on the Iron Range. But I have come to the conclusion that copper-nickel mining does not belong anywhere near this unbelievably precious wilderness area.”
However, Rep. Pete Stauber, Minnesota Republican, attacked the decision because of the advancement of Chinese mineral projects elsewhere.
“Today is an attack on our way of life. Joe Biden banned mining in 225,000 acres of Minnesota’s Iron Range and locked up development of taconite, copper, nickel, cobalt, platinum-group elements, and more … Not even one month ago, Joe Biden signed an agreement to fund mining projects in Chinese-owned mines in the Congo, where over 40,000 children work as slaves …The only winner here is China,” Rep. Stauber said.
The Jobs for Minnesotans coalition of business and labor groups also excoriated the 20-year moratorium.
“Ultimately, this sends a chilling message to hardworking Minnesotans who need the widespread economic benefits of mining in our state,” the group’s vice chairman, Adam Duininck, said in a statement.