The Biden administration is considering a U.S. Forest Service application requesting a 20-year mining ban on national forest land in Minnesota. The agency wants over 200,000 acres of land south of the Boundary Waters in Minnesota to be exempt from all proposed mining activities. If the application is successful, the ban would stop Chilean mining company Antofagasta’s Twin Metals Minnesota subsidiary from constructing a $1.7 billion underground copper-nickel mine in the area.
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The Interior Department announced that it will carry out a two-year review to determine the potential impacts of mining on natural and cultural resources in the area. During this period, all mining activities will be halted. If the department is convinced that mining is detrimental to nature, it may recommend a permanent ban on all proposed mining activities.
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“A place like the Boundary Waters should be enjoyed by and protected for everyone, not only today but for future generations,” Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland said in a statement. “Today the Biden Administration is taking an important and sensible step to ensure that we have all the science and the public input necessary to make informed decisions about how mining activities may impact this special place.”
Antofagasta has mining leases on the land that date back to 1966. Operating as Twin Metals Minnesota, Antofagasta has been trying to mine the land for years. Its activities in Minnesota have been a cause for national debate. During President Barack Obama’s tenure, the subsidiary’s leases were revoked due to concerns about mining’s effect on nature. However, the revocation order was abandoned by the Trump administration, and the company was allowed to proceed with its plans for 2019. This push and pull has been caused by personal and collective political interests. Some reports show that the Trump family has ties to Andrónico Luksic, the Chilean billionaire behind Antofagasta.
Democrats and environmental groups have applauded the recent announcement, saying that it is a positive step for the environment. Becky Rom, national chair of the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters, said, “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. It is an ecological marvel, a world-class outdoor destination, and an economic engine for hundreds of businesses and many thousands of people. This is a great first step on the pathway to permanent protection.”