The U.S. Department of the Interior announced this week that it is canceling two leases for copper mining in the Minnesota wilderness that President Donald Trump authorized during his presidency.
Twin Metals Minnesota, a subsidiary of Antofagasta plc, a multinational mining conglomerate, was slated to mine for copper in the Boundary Waters region. The area — which spans over 1.1 million acres from Minnesota to Ontario, Canada — has "pristine" water quality and is home to more than 50 animal species and more than 200 bird species.
Environmental activists had warned that the Twin Metals mining operation could put the Boundary Waters' status as a haven for natural life in jeopardy, with runoff flooding the area with contaminants.
"After a careful legal review, we found the leases were improperly renewed in violation of applicable statutes and regulations, and we are taking action to cancel them," U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland said in a statement.
In October, the Biden administration announced it would consider withdrawing the Boundary Waters from consideration for any mining leases for the next 20 years — the maximum amount of time under the Secretary of the Interior's authority.
In the final months of President Barack Obama's administration, the department declined to renew Twin Metals' leases to mine in the Boundary Waters region. Former President Donald Trump reinstated the company's leases. In 2018, Trump's Department of Agriculture canceled a study assessing the environmental impact of mining operations in the area.
After Trump took office, Antofagasta plc heavily increased its lobbying in Washington, spending upwards of $900,000 to advocate for the leases to be reopened, the New York Times reported.
Around the same time, Andrónico Luksic, whose family controls Antofagasta, entered into a private financial arrangement with Ivanka Trump and her husband, Jared Kushner.
In December 2016, Luksic purchased a $5.5 million home in the high-end neighborhood of Kalorama in Washington, D.C. One month later, when Trump took office, Ivanka Trump and Kushner rented and moved into Luksic's house.
Richard W. Painter, who served as ethics chief under former President George W. Bush, told Newsweek magazine in 2019 the arrangement gave the appearance that Luksic was "trying to influence" the administration on its mining decision by aligning himself with Trump's daughter and son-in-law.
Antofagasta has previously faced allegations of being involved in corrupt actions like bribery as well as concerns that the company's mining operations have caused damage to culturally significant heritage sites.
The Biden administration's reversal of the decision by the Trump team was hailed by Save The Boundary Waters, an activist group opposing the project on environmental grounds.
"It is heartening to have an administration making decisions with integrity," Becky Rom, the group's national campaign chair, said in a statement. "Twin Metals leases should never have been reinstated in the first place, and this announcement should stop the Twin Metals mine threat."
Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN), who represents the Boundary Waters region in Congress, praised the Department of the Interior's decision.
"The Biden administration's cancellation of two Twin Metals leases that threatened this watershed is a rejection of the deeply flawed and politically motivated process under the Trump administration and a victory for sound science and protecting a precious and irreplaceable natural resource," McCollum said in a statement.
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.