Local View: Minnesotans 'made to look like fools' in sham comment period
From the column: "It seems clear that prior to the completion of the public hearings, the Bureau of Land Management had decided it would cancel Twin Metals’ mineral leases. Yet, the bureau continued with the charade."
On Oct. 21, a notice was published in the Federal Register by the U. S. Forest Service informing the public it had filed an application with the Bureau of Land Management to request that the Secretary of the Interior withdraw from mineral development 225,378 acres of federal lands in the Rainy River Watershed of the Superior National Forest. Further, it announced that the Bureau of Land Management would take comments during a 90-day public-comment period on whether it should implement a 20-year ban on mining on those same federal lands.
“This notice segregates the lands for up to two years from operation of the United States mineral and geothermal leasing laws, … provides an opportunity for the public to submit written comments on the withdrawal application, and notifies the public that one or more public meetings will be held regarding the application,” the notice stated. “Comments regarding this withdrawal must be received by January 19, 2022. … Comments, suggestions, or objections related to the withdrawal application may present their views in writing to the (Bureau of Land Management) Deputy.”
Notice was later provided that virtual public meetings would be held via Zoom on Jan. 12, 15, and 18 and that one could register to speak.
Well-paid mining jobs are the driving force behind Northeastern Minnesota’s economy. A 20-year ban on mining on federal lands will impede and perhaps kill Twin Metals’ proposed copper-nickel mine on the federal lands within the Rainy River Watershed. Thus, Up North Jobs and many other pro-mining organizations and activists mobilized to oppose the ban proposed by the Bureau of Land Management. Our members, financial supporters, government officials, and many others were urged to submit substantive comments and suggestions, via email, U.S. mail, and Zoom to bureau Deputy F. David Radford, opposing the withdrawal.
On Jan. 26, 2022, eight days after the nine hours of public hearings were completed, Bureau of Land Management Deputy Secretary Tommy Beaudreau, acting on a legal opinion issued by the Bureau of Land Management solicitor, concluded that Twin Metals’ mineral leases were improperly renewed by the administration of President Donald Trump and therefore subject to cancelation. Beaudreau announced that Twin Metals’ leases were canceled.
The legal opinion issued by the Bureau of Land Management’s own solicitor, dated Jan. 25, is 16 single-spaced pages in length. It had to have been the product of months of legal research.
It seems clear that prior to the completion of the public hearings, the Bureau of Land Management had decided it would cancel Twin Metals’ mineral leases. Yet, the bureau continued with the charade and took public comments via Zoom and solicited letters from opponents and proponents of the withdrawal, withholding notice that the mineral leases soon would be canceled.
Acting in bad faith, neither the Bureau of Land Management nor the Forest Service informed the public that the hearings were no longer relevant or that the public’s efforts in providing substantive comments were meaningless and a waste of time. It is inconceivable that the bureau did not know about the legal opinion before Jan. 12, when the first hearing was held, or by Jan. 18, when the last hearing was held.
These actions and the behavior of the Bureau of Land Management are disheartening. Thousands of Minnesotans were made to look like fools for believing the bureau was sincere and was acting in good faith with its requests to the public to make written comments and submit comments via Zoom, in order to help it reach a decision regarding the proposed withdrawal and ban on mining on the federal lands.
The Bureau of Land Management undermined the public’s trust in government. Thousands of Minnesotans will refuse to believe that any findings or decisions rendered by it in the future will be credible, reliable and not politically motivated.
Gerald M. Tyler is chairman and CEO of the Ely Area Development Association and of Up North Jobs (upnorthjobs.org), an Ely-based nonprofit that promotes economic development and job growth in Northeastern Minnesota. He’s also a lawyer and a U.S. Marine Corps veteran.