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Our View: Right the wrong done to Twin Metals

No mine had even been proposed. Or mining. There was still just mineral exploration going on in far Northeastern Minnesota, the drilling down into the Earth to see what was there, to see if there was enough to help satisfy our nation's insatiable hunger for the copper and other metals that power our everyday existence — our necessities like cellphones, cars, and lights.

And then the mineral exploration was yanked away. A mine could be stopped before a project was even proposed, extreme-environmental anti-mining interests pressed, and the administration of then-President Barack Obama obliged. A year ago this month, Obama's U.S. Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service declined to renew mineral leases to Twin Metals, leases that dated back half a century and had been renewed as a matter of routine ever since.

As the News Tribune has opined during the past 12 months, it was hard to see the unexpected nonrenewal as anything but 11th-hour overreach by a lame-duck administration willing to take a parting shot to appease its base.

A welcome first step came last week to undo the wrong and to allow Twin Metals to again explore deposits of minerals to the south and east of Ely. A bill to reinstate the exploration leases passed the U.S. House. It deserves support now in the Senate and can then be signed by President Donald Trump.

Critics do have reason to be concerned. Copper mining has never been attempted in Minnesota. Even though every mine is geologically unique, copper mines elsewhere have polluted. And here, the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, a national and natural treasure, is nearby.

But stringent, thorough, years-long environmental-review and permitting processes are in place to ensure that any mining happens safely and responsibly. If Twin Metals can't show its operations will be pollution-free, they shouldn't be allowed.

But that determination can't be made without a mining project first being proposed, which would trigger the environmental-review and permitting processes.

Withdrawing Twin Metals' mineral leases inappropriately usurped those processes. Like any citizen, whether individual or corporate, Twin Metals deserved to be treated fairly in accordance with existing state and federal laws. It wasn't.

But last week, a promising first step was taken to right the wrong. It's now up to the Senate and president to follow through.