Feds deny Twin Metals mineral leases near BWCA

Twin Metals headquarters in Ely, Minnesota. (Note the periodic table of elements motif).

Today, the U.S. government informed Twin Metals, a proposed nonferrous mining project near Ely, that the Forest Service would oppose mineral leases in lands near the federally protected Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. As a result, the Department of Land Management indicated it would not renew the leases, which had expired in 2012.

The news even made the New York Times.

UPDATE: Twin Metals has issued a statement:

“Twin Metals is greatly disappointed in the action announced today by the BLM and the USFS to deny renewal of two of the company’s long-standing and valid mineral leases in Minnesota, and to initiate actions to withdraw federal lands and minerals from future exploration and development. If allowed to stand, the BLM-USFS actions will have a devastating impact on the future economy of the Iron Range and all of Northeast Minnesota, eliminating the promise of thousands of good-paying jobs and billions of dollars in investment in the region. Further, this unprecedented decision is contrary to the overwhelming majority of local and regional citizens and communities who support mining and believe mining can be done responsibly in this region.

Twin Metal’s leases have been held in good standing by the federal government for more than 50 years, and twice renewed without controversy. As stated in a federal lawsuit filed in September 2016, Twin Metals believes denial of the leases is inconsistent with federal law, the terms of leases themselves, and the federal government’s established precedent in supporting and renewing the leases over five decades.

While Twin Metals is assessing the impact of the agencies’ lease renewal decision, the company is committed to progressing our project forward and will continue to pursue legal avenues to protect our contractual mineral rights.”

Opponents cheered the decision.

“These actions happened because tens of thousands of people spoke up against locating a sulfide mine on the edge of America’s most popular wilderness area,” said Paul Danicic, executive director the Friends of the Boundary Waters in an official statement. “We thank the U.S. Forest Service for listening to their concerns and making a decision that protects the Boundary Waters from Twin Metals’ dangerous proposal. Now it’s critical that everybody who cares for the Boundary Waters join us and show the federal government how many people support permanently protecting the Boundary Waters from sulfide mining pollution.“

Gov. Mark Dayton issued a statement welcoming the decision:

“It is important to note that this decision is not in opposition to mining, but in defense of a pristine and priceless environmental wonder,” said Dayton. “We must continue doing all we can to support good jobs and a strong economy in Northeastern Minnesota, while ensuring the protection of our greatest natural resources. I thank Secretary Vilsack and Secretary Jewell for their exceptional leadership, to protect the BWCAW for all Minnesotans and for our country.”

Dayton had already directed the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources not to issue permits for mining proposals near the BWCA.

The decision is a huge disappointment for supporters of the project in the Ely area, who hope that new forms of mining in Northeastern Minnesota could bring good jobs to an area that needs them.

This is not necessarily the end for Twin Metals, but it is a major setback. That mine was always years behind PolyMet, another nonferrous mining project proposed near Hoyt Lakes. PolyMet, too, has been delayed for a long time — in part due to a slow regulatory process, and in part because its initial impact statement was deemed inadequate. However, PolyMet was able to formally submit its application for permits this year after successfully completing its EIS.

Unlike Twin Metals, PolyMet is primarily located in the Lake Superior watershed on the other side of the Laurentian Divide.

Further, with President-elect Trump taking office in January, many expect policy reversals throughout the federal government. It’s possible Trump’s Administration would reverse this decision, though doing so would take more time. A similar thing might happen with the Obama Administration’s decision to deny the favored route for the Dakota Access Pipeline.

Both PolyMet and Twin Metals attract significant controversy due to the sulfide-bearing rock they seek to mine for a variety of valuable minerals. Sulfides exposed to air and water can become sulfates, harmful chemicals that can pollute water, often many years after the closure of a mine.

Northern Minnesota sits on one of the world’s biggest freshwater aquifers.


  1. Great…now we can watch all the non-global warming, green, eco-friendly, water purer than God created, diverse economies start blossoming on the Range.

    • This can only be done of we stop looking into the monoculture of mining. The Range needs more diversity in its industries. A forest of all one kind of tree will get sick and die.

  2. Any action taken by the Obama administration at this point should be viewed as temporary.

  3. Nice message – Come invest in Northern Minnesota – we’ll let you spend hundreds of millions prepping for your project and then pull the rug out from under your feet before you even have a chance to propose a project.

  4. Chris Freeman says

    “Northern minnesota sits on one of the the world’s biggest freshwater aquifers”? Care to provide a sitation? I do not believe that is correct.

  5. Independant says

    Our governor can now proudly state that he led the fight to stop scientific exploratory drilling in an area specifically declared to be open to scientific exploratory drilling when the people of Northeastern Minnesota got land stolen from them by the federal government in the late 1970’s to form the BWCA. Anyone reporting that this was to stop mining isn’t being truthful. This permit was only to allow exploratory drilling to scientifically map the geological makeup of the potential project. As we all know any mining would be a decade away involving countless public hearing and permit applications to actually mine.

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