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Boundary Waters

A view of Kawishiwi Waterfall, near Winton, Minnesota, looking towards Falls Lake in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. (Photo: Jim Liestman/Flickr/cc)

'Monumental Victory' as Biden Cancels Boundary Waters Mining Leases

Rep. Betty McCollum called the administration's decision "a rejection of the deeply flawed and politically motivated process under the Trump administration."

Brett Wilkins

Environmentalists and progressives on Wednesday cheered a decision by the Biden administration to cancel a pair of mining leases in northern Minnesota that critics warned would threaten the pristine Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. 

"Some places are simply too special to  mine." 

In its statement announcing the cancellations, the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) noted that it had "improperly renewed" the leases to Twin Metals, a subsidiary of Chilean mining giant Antofagasta, in 2019 during the administration of former President Donald Trump. The DOI's decision effectively ends Twin Metals' proposed project. 

"The Department of the Interior takes seriously our obligations to steward public lands and waters on behalf of all Americans. We must be consistent in how we apply lease terms to ensure that no lessee receives special treatment," explained Interior Secretary Deb Haaland. "After a careful legal review, we found the leases were improperly renewed in violation of applicable statutes and regulations, and we are taking action to cancel them."

Becky Rom, national chair of the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters, said in a statement that "today is a major win for Boundary Waters protection. This action by the Biden administration reestablishes the long-standing legal consensus of five presidential administrations and marks a return of the rule of law. It also allows for science-based decision-making on where risky mining is inappropriate."

"Twin Metals leases should never have been reinstated in the first place, and this announcement should stop the Twin Metals mine threat," Rom added. 

Last October, the Biden administration announced it would pause all new mining activity in the unspoiled region of northern Minnesota pending a lengthy environmental review. The Boundary Waters Canoe Wilderness Area spans more than one million acres along the Canadian border. It is home to the Ojibwe Indigenous people, as well as over 100 species of migratory birds and other diverse wildlife. It is also one of the most-visited receational areas of its kind in the United States. 

"These potential mines threatened the health and safety of the American people, as well as one of our most cherished natural places."

Antofagasta is controlled by the family of Chilean billionaire Andrónico Luksic, who during the Trump presidency rented a Washington, D.C. home to Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, the former president's daughter and son-in-law and advisers. The Trump administration's policy reversed a decision by the outgoing Obama administration to reject Twin Metals' request to renew the two expired minerals leases, which were first issued in 1966.

Ellen Montgomery, public lands campaign director at the advocacy group Environment America, said in a statement that "mining and the pollution that comes with it have no business in the Boundary Waters. The Biden administration has made the right call in protecting this popular wilderness area."

"For our wildlife and every person who dreams of visiting and bringing their children to this special place, we need to keep this area safe from toxic leaks, spills, and mine waste," Montgomery added. "We hope this is just the start and that we can expect even more ironclad protections for this area."

Democratic lawmakers joined green groups in welcoming the administration's decision. 

U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minn.), who has been at the forefront of congressional efforts to protect BWCAW, hailed what she called a "monumental victory for Boundary Waters." 

McCollum celebrated the administration's move as "a rejection of the deeply flawed and politically motivated process under the Trump administration and a victory for sound science and protecting a precious and irreplaceable natural resource."

"The Boundary Waters is a national treasure that belongs to all Americans, and I am absolutely committed to ensuring its watershed will be permanently protected," she added. "Some places are simply too special to mine, and it is our obligation to ensure these unique and valuable lands and waters remain intact for generations to come."

Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) called the announcement "a huge victory." 

Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), who chairs the House Natural Resources Committee, said in a statement that "these potential mines threatened the health and safety of the American people, as well as one of our most cherished natural places."

"The record is clear, putting this type of mining right next to the Boundary Waters would have been an environmental disaster," he added. "I will continue working with my colleagues to make sure the Boundary Waters is permanently protected so that future generations of Americans can similarly enjoy this pristine area."

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