Duluth News Tribune Op-Ed: U-turn on Twin Metals a Massive Giveaway of Irreplaceable Public Resources

by Alexandra Klass
Sandra Zellmer

July 17, 2018

This op-ed originally ran in the Duluth News Tribune.

Any Minnesotan who has ever dipped a canoe paddle, pitched a tent, or laced up a hiking boot while visiting the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness can tell you why it is the nation's most-visited wilderness area and considered a crown jewel of Minnesota. Unfortunately, Twin Metals, a subsidiary of the Chilean mining giant Antofagasta PLC, has its eye on the area in hopes of operating a sulfide-ore copper-nickel mine, bringing one of the world's most toxic industries to the edge of the Boundary Waters. Despite the devastating impact expected on the local economy and environment, President Donald Trump's Interior Department is bending over backwards to support the push to pollute.

If allowed, Twin Metals is expected to locate its processing plant on the banks of Birch Lake, a popular fishing and recreation lake that flows into the Boundary Waters. The resulting pollution would, in the judgment of the U.S. Forest Service, pose a significant risk of contamination that would "seriously degrade the wilderness' character and quality" and cause serious and irreparable harm.

In addition to the environmental and recreational harms, the mine promises to be an economic loser. The state's outdoor recreation economy annually generates $16.7 billion in consumer spending, $4.5 billion in wages, and $1.4 billion in state and local tax revenue while supporting 140,000 direct jobs. A 2017 study by Key Log Economics showed that copper-nickel mining in the Boundary Waters watershed would cost Northeastern Minnesota $288 million in lost revenue from visitor spending and lost property values amounting to about $509 million. The 4,490 local jobs at risk would be 10 times the number of new mining jobs expected to be created, according to a study from the School of Business and Economics at University of Minnesota Duluth. The total tab? Between $402 million and $1.6 billion in lost annual income.

A decision by the Interior Department to allow Twin Metals not only would be bad for the environment, public, and business, it would be bad law, too.

Twin Metals is proceeding under leases it first purchased in the 1960s and has renewed several times since. But the company has yet to begin mining half a century later; and under the leases' terms, it can renew for no more than three successive 10-year terms if it has not yet begun production. The mining law caps the renewals in order to prevent the speculative holding of mineral rights and to encourage a fair return for taxpayers.

Read the full op-ed on the Duluth News Tribune website.

Top image by R27182818, CC BY-SA 3.0

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Also from Alexandra Klass

Alexandra Klass is a Distinguished McKnight University Professor at the University of Minnesota Law School, and a member of the board of directors of the Center for Progressive Reform.

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