The community near the proposed lease locations is no stranger to the mining industry. Ely, Minnesota, is considered part of the Vermillion Iron Range and has seen its fair shares of iron ore mines pop up. Recognizing that history, Twin Metals even touted that once its facilities had opened, they would be “the state’s first underground mining operation … since the closure of Ely’s Pioneer Mine in 1967.” The small town’s proximity to Superior National Forest has made it a destination as one of the largest jumping off points to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, considered one of the best freshwater fishing locations in the country and known for its pristine waters. The forest makes up 20% of the National Park Services’ water and is a critical habitat for numerous species. It’s also a significant location for Indigenous tribes, who have lived in and around the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness for thousands of years. Indigenous tribes today hunt and fish there as well as harvest wild rice. Twin Metals would’ve threatened the dignity, history, and the sanctity of the region were it to go forward, as Superior National Forest is known for its pristine qualities.
Inevitable pollution from the mine (not a single copper sulfide mine in operation has had a clean record when it comes to disasters) could damage one of the most considerable carbon sinks in the world. Superior National Forest is a boreal forest, a biome that stores substantial greenhouse gas emissions in its vegetation and soil and is vital to combatting climate change. The pollution from simply operating the Twin Metals mines notwithstanding, losing those qualities of the Superior National Forest would spell disaster for residents and ecosystems alike. According to the Nature Conservancy, the Superior National Forest is a key component for climate mitigation as it is one of the most resilient in the country. So important to the Nature Conservancy is the land near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness that the group purchased more than 2,100 acres of it last year.
On top of that, public opinion isn’t even close to supporting the Twin Metal project. “Seventy percent of Minnesotans oppose sulfide-ore mining near the Boundary Waters and over 248,000 people in a recent public comment period asked the Biden administration to ban this risky mining in the watershed of the Boundary Waters,” said Jeremy Drucker, who is with the Save Our Boundary Waters advocacy group. “The message is loud and clear. It’s time for Twin Metals to move on and go back to Chile.”
But the last thing Twin Metal wants to do is let this issue rest, apparently. Responding to news of the Biden administration’s decision, Twin Metal Minnesota touted its ability to hold onto a lease for so long and vowed to “challenge this attempt to stop our project and defend our valid existing mineral rights.” The statement somehow claimed that it was somehow a part of the “global efforts in combatting the climate crisis,” which is laughable given parent company Antofagasta’s abhorrent history. Luckily, the Biden administration isn’t buying what Antofagasta is selling. The potential demise of Twin Metals Minnesota is a welcomed victory, but the fight is certainly not over. Twin Metals vowed to fight to keep mining and, chillingly, the company expects “to prevail.”