President Joe Biden’s administration announced Thursday a 20-year moratorium on mining for some 225,000 acres of land in the Superior National Forest, next to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.
Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland signed Public Land Order 7917, withdrawing approximately 225,504 acres in the Superior National Forest in northeastern Minnesota from federal mineral and geothermal leasing for a 20-year period, she announced in a press release.
She said the drastic step “will help protect the Rainy River watershed, including the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and the 1854 Ceded Territory of the Chippewa Bands, from the potential adverse impacts of new mineral and geothermal exploration and development.”
According to Haaland, the Federal Land Policy and Management Act grants her the authority to withdraw this area for a maximum of 20 years, subject to renewal, but only Congress can enact a permanent withdrawal.
Democrats are also seeking to ban mining on 1.9 million acres of state-owned land in northeastern Minnesota.
“Protecting a place like the Boundary Waters is key to supporting the health of the watershed and its surrounding wildlife, upholding our Tribal trust and treaty responsibilities, and boosting the local recreation economy,” Haaland said. “With an eye toward protecting this special place for future generations, I have made this decision using the best-available science and extensive public input.”
Twin Metals, which is engaged in a legal battle with the federal government for leasing rights to open a copper-nickel mine in the area, said it was “stunned” by the announcement.
“This region sits on top of one of the world’s largest deposits of critical minerals that are vital in meeting our nation’s goals to transition to a clean energy future, to create American jobs, to strengthen our national security and to bolster domestic supply chains. We believe our project plays a critical role in addressing all of these priorities, and we remain committed to enforcing Twin Metals’ rights,” the firm said.
Republicans who represent the area in the Minnesota Legislature called the move an “all-out attack” on their communities.
“It is unacceptable that your administration is once again choosing to invest taxpayer dollars in the development of Chinese owned mines in nations that employ child-slave labor while blocking the development of taconite, copper, nickel, cobalt, platinum-group elements, and many more critical minerals here in America,” they said in a letter to President Biden.
The Save the Boundary Waters campaign praised Haaland’s order, pointing to a federal review that found “sulfide-ore copper mining would pollute the Boundary Waters in ways that could not be fixed or mitigated,” they 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 decision moves America ever closer to permanently protecting this beloved Wilderness,” said Becky Rom, national chair of the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters.
U.S. Rep. Pete Stauber, a Republican who represents the Iron Range in Congress, said the president and his cabinet “will answer for the pain they elected to cause my constituents today.”
“Not even one month ago, Joe Biden signed an agreement to fund mining projects in Chinese-owned mines in the Congo, where over 40,000 children work as slaves in forced labor and inhumane conditions with no environmental protections. Meanwhile today’s mining ban nullifies a Project Labor Agreement with the local building and construction trade unions,” he said. “The only winner here is China, as Joe Biden continues to hand our foreign adversaries every advantage possible.”