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Local View: Twin Metals decision a slap in the face to Northeastern Minnesota

From the column: "Unfortunately, instead of trusting the experts and the process, projects like Twin Metals are being used increasingly as political footballs, as evidenced by this latest move from the Department of Interior."

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In this photo from 2010, a worker holds a core sample showing a polymetallic deposit from the Twin Metals exploration area east of the Kawishiwi River. (2010 file / News Tribune)
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On Jan. 26, the U.S. Department of Interior dealt an egregious blow to northern Minnesota by canceling the long-held leases for the proposed Twin Metals Minnesota underground copper, nickel, cobalt and platinum group metals project.

If you care about our region’s future stability, you should be as concerned about this move as we are.

Collectively, our organizations work to ensure the prosperity of our region through strong educational systems, job opportunities, and economic growth — all of which are dependent on investments in our communities through responsible industry. Mining has been the backbone of our economy for more than 130 years, and the critical minerals located in Northeastern Minnesota have the potential to spur billions of dollars of such investment in our area for generations.

It is — and it should be — hard to permit a new mine in Minnesota. We expect any industrial project, such as the one proposed by Twin Metals, to be thoroughly vetted to ensure it can meet our stringent standards. Those standards are some of the best in the world, for both environmental and worker safety. We should have trust in the scientific experts at our state and federal agencies tasked with reviewing projects against those standards to complete environmental review. It’s a process that currently takes, on average, 16 years to complete for mining projects in the U.S.

Unfortunately, instead of trusting the experts and the process, projects like Twin Metals are being used increasingly as political footballs, as evidenced by this latest move from the Department of Interior. How so? Twin Metals and its predecessors have held their mineral leases in good standing since 1966. The company has since invested more than $530 million in our region to develop its copper-nickel mining project. Then, over the course of several presidential administrations, one decided to reject the renewal of the leases, the next renewed them, and now the current administration again reversed the decision on procedural opinions.

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This kind of decision-making and the uncertainty it brings is bad for business, both here in Minnesota and nationwide. Why would any business want to invest in developing a significant project when this kind of flip-flopping occurs? Do the folks in Washington making these decisions have concern for the negative impacts these decisions have on our communities here in northern Minnesota? We think not.

It's not only a slap in the face for our region, it’s also contradictory to many of the goals the administration says it wants to achieve, including creating good American jobs, securing our domestic supply chains, strengthening our national security, and fighting climate change with green technologies. The latter requires large amounts of copper, nickel, cobalt, and other metals.

These minerals, contained here in the largest undeveloped copper-nickel deposit in the world, have existed for several billion years. They’re not going anywhere. And neither are we. We’re in this for the long haul, to stand behind Twin Metals as it fights these actions and to continue to advocate for a safe, responsible copper-nickel mining industry. The opportunities these minerals could bring for the communities of northern Minnesota are immense, and that makes this fight personal for all of us who live, work, play and raise families here.

Brian Hanson of Duluth is board chair for the grassroots industry-advocacy group Jobs for Minnesotans (jobsorminnesotans.org). Frank Ongaro of Duluth is executive director of MiningMinnesota (miningminnesota.com), a pro-mining industrial trade organization. And Ida Rukavina of rural Virginia is executive director of the Range Association of Municipalities and Schools, or RAMS (ramsmn.org), a nonprofit in Mountain Iron that has been advocating for the Iron Range since 1939. This commentary also was supported by and submitted on behalf of the Duluth-based organization Better in Our Back Yard (betterinourbackyard.com), which promotes responsible industrial development.

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