A movement is underway to ask President-elect Donald Trump and his administration to reverse a recent decision by federal officials that could close more than 200,000 acres of Northeastern Minnesota to mining.
A resolution will take time, beyond Trump’s inauguration on Jan. 20, but presents a sliver of hope to industry supporters after a double-whammy of bad news last week. The federal government denied two mineral leases to Twin Metals Minnesota and applied to close 234,000 acres within Superior National Forest to mining for the next 20 years.
It was major victory for environmentalists as the closure would impact more than Twin Metals, but it could be short-lived.
“Certainly reversal by the Trump Administration is being considered,” said Bob McFarlin, spokesman for Twin Metals, this week. How the company will go about a reversal is being investigated, but it believes the U.S. Forest Service’s request to close acreage is a discretionary pursuit, as opposed to a set rule or law. “Most of the feeling we’ve had is that it could be withdrawn quickly and easily.”
If the feds move forward with closing the land, it’s looking at a two-year process.
First the department will have to issue a Federal Register, which is open to a 90-day comment period, followed by a two-year moratorium. With less than a month left of the Obama Administration in the White House, the hope around mining supporters is that Trump’s action is swift, especially since action was taken without any environmental reviews or official project proposals.
Eighth District Congressman Rick Nolan, D-Minn., said he’s cautiously optimistic on Trump, but said it will take work.
Nolan hasn’t discussed the issue Congressman Ryan Zinke, R-Mont., who is Trump’s pick for Interior secretary, but has spoken with Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., a candidate for Agriculture secretary. Current Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, noted Nolan, wrote the Forest Service decision on the leases and land closure.
“I think we’ll get a second look,” he said in a phone interview Thursday. “I will work across the aisle to get a reversal of this decision. When the new administration is in place, I’ll work with them, too. I’m cautiously optimistic we’ll get that accomplished.”
Grassroots support is also growing for Twin Metals and regional mining projects.
Joe Baltich is a former mayor of Ely and owner of the Red Rock Wilderness Store near the Boundary Waters. He benefits from tourism, but knows his city will equally benefit from Twin Metals, so long as the company is responsible and can coexist with tourism.
After the feds killed the company’s leases, he began a Facebook group called Fight For Mining Minnesota, and gained more than 10,000 members in the first week. He started the group to “make noise” and grab Trump’s attention to reverse the decision.
“I really want it to go, we need jobs desperately,” Baltich said. “We’ve been mining for 100 years. It’s been going on all my life, now all of sudden, we can’t do it.”