Minnesota should stop all state-level work on the controversial Twin Metals Mining proposal if the Trump government doesn’t share vital information about copper mining’s risks to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCA).
Gov. Tim Walz may be managing a pandemic, but other crucial decisions concerning the state’s future must also be made. Protecting this beloved, fragile natural preserve is one of them.
The $1 billion Twin Metals project is still years away from becoming a reality, a long timeline due to the extreme scrutiny needed to issue critical licenses. The underground mine and its above ground operations would be within the BWCA’s watershed and unsafely close to the shoreline of a reservoir draining into the wilderness. In November, a Star Tribune Editorial Board special report, “Not this mine. Not this location,” argued that the regulatory framework is broken and the contamination risks unacceptable.
The editorial board warned about the relationship between the Antofagasta, the mine’s Chilean corporate owners, and the Trump administration. It also called out the administration for keeping secret the scientific data gathered during a two-year federal study of copper mining’s potential harm to the BWCA’s watershed. That study was aborted in September 2018, four months shy of completion.
On March 10, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) officially requested that the U.S. Forest Service share the data. The letter from DNR Commissioner Sarah Strommen cited the agency’s long-standing interest in this data, the data’s “significant implications for the people of Minnesota,” and the decision last fall to do a state-level environmental review of Twin Metals. It didn’t take long for the Trump administration to reject it. The brusque April 13 response from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which oversees the Forest Service, said the study was not finalized; therefore, no findings could be released.
That response is a troubling departure from how agencies traditionally work even through the early phases of the research. “You share draft information all the time,” said Tom Landwehr, a former DNR commissioner who now leads the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters, which opposes Twin Metals. “It is a general practice on these large state and federal projects.”
The response is also insulting to Minnesota scientists and the public, suggesting that they can’t be trusted to interpret data from a nearly completed study. However, nobody should be deceived by maneuvering. There’s only one conclusion to draw from the secrecy: Science doesn’t support the project. To their credit, Twin Metals officials recently told an editorial writer that the firm “has never been in possession nor objected to the release of information gathered by the U.S. Forest Service.”
The DNR provided a statement saying it has not decided how it will respond to the USDA. However, the next steps of the agency should be apparent. It sought this data to do its own analysis, and it shouldn’t proceed without it.
Another recent development adds to concerns about the state moving ahead. The Trump administration is pursuing alterations to the federal Clean Water Act that would expedite huge projects like mines while hobbling state and tribal efforts to study the water quality effect. The changes are disturbingly close to finalization.
The federal secrecy continues to be a serious red flag. The Clean Water Act changes also indicate that the Trump administration is doing what it could to coddle Twin Metals instead of protecting the BWCA. The only logical response is for the DNR and other state agencies with permitting responsibilities to suspend work on this risky mining project.