Hawley: Federal govt canceled MN mineral leases after meeting with left-wing group

"It sounds to me like it's the dark money billionaires who are calling the shots at the Department of the Interior," Hawley said.

Sen. Josh Hawley questions Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland during a May 2 hearing.

Mineral leases in Minnesota’s Superior National Forest were canceled by the federal government after a left-wing environmental group had off-the-books meetings with officials employed by the U.S. Department of the Interior, according to Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo.

In a contentious back-and-forth exchange, Hawley questioned Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland about the canceled mineral leases and undisclosed meetings between federal officials and The Wilderness Society. The exchange occurred at a committee meeting of the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

According to Hawley, emails from July of 2021 indicate that The Wilderness Society sought an off-the-books meeting with leadership staff at the Department of the Interior while the environmental group had pending adverse litigation against the department related to the leases. The Missouri senator stated the meetings eventually occurred and were not public knowledge at the time.

Hawley indicated that the emails were obtained after a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request was filed.

Addressing Secretary Haaland, Hawley said, “After they have these off-the-books meetings, their request is to cancel the mineral leasing rights in Minnesota in the Superior National Forest, this is a critical minerals mine. The society wants the mine shut down. After they meet off-the-books with your leadership, you do it.”

“You cancel the leases, and then you withdraw 225,000 acres of critical mining from production and leasing shortly after that,” Sen. Hawley told Secretary Haaland.

In 2022, the mineral leases in the area were canceled by the Biden administration. On Jan. 26, 2023, Secretary Haaland signed a public land order which withdrew over 225,000 acres of land in the Superior National Forest from being leased for 20 years. This two-decade moratorium was supported by The Wilderness Society.

The Wilderness Society is a nonprofit group which seeks to preserve and protect public lands throughout the United States. According to Hawley, The Wilderness Society is largely funded by Hansjörg Wyss, an 88-year-old Swiss billionaire. A supporter of various environmental causes, Wyss sits on the governing council of The Wilderness Society.

“We have foreign billionaires who are funding dark money groups coming to meet with your leadership, concealing it from the public while they are filing lawsuits adverse to the department, doing it without the court’s knowledge, doing it, you say, without your knowledge, and then getting exactly what they want,” Hawley told the secretary.

“It sounds to me like it’s the dark money billionaires who are calling the shots at the Department of the Interior. And all I have to say to you, madam secretary, is: that is a travesty. It is a travesty. The American people should be in charge, not the foreign billionaires,” added the Missouri senator.

During the exchange with Hawley, Secretary Haaland said her department meets with many groups, but she did not have enough information to provide specifics about meetings with The Wilderness Society. Additionally, the secretary said she did not know who Hansjörg Wyss is, she did not meet with him, and she was not aware of the situation before Hawley raised the issue.

When Hawley said the Department of the Interior has a corruption problem, Secretary Haaland replied, “We don’t.”

Congressman Pete Stauber, R-Minn., whose district includes the Superior National Forest, is a supporter of restoring the mineral leases. Just days ago, legislation authored by Rep. Stauber to reinstate the leases was passed by the U.S. House of Representatives.

“My legislation will remove the obstacles put in place by the Biden Administration, allowing our skilled miners to prove that they are ready to safely deliver Minnesota’s mineral wealth to the nation using the best environmental and labor standards in the world,” said Rep. Stauber. “As the demand for minerals continues to skyrocket, we must invest in mineral production here at home rather than continue our dependence on child slave labor and environmentally damaging adversaries overseas.”

In closing his statement, Rep. Stauber urged Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., to put the legislation to a vote in the U.S. Senate.


Luke Sprinkel

Luke Sprinkel previously worked as a Legislative Assistant at the Minnesota House of Representatives. He grew up as a Missionary Kid (MK) living in England, Thailand, Tanzania, and the Middle East. Luke graduated from Regent University in 2018.