For months, the Trump administration has blown off requests from influential members of Congress, the Star Tribune Editorial Board and others to make public the science gathered during an aborted study of mining’s risks to a Minnesota treasure — the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.
The state, however, is far from a powerless observer in this troubling standoff. Gov. Tim Walz ought to wield the immense leverage he has as the state’s CEO to lift this contemptible veil of secrecy. Walz should order the Department of Natural Resources and the Pollution Control Agency to suspend permitting work involving the proposed Twin Metals Minnesota mine until the feds release the data.
Twin Metals, owned by the Chilean-mining giant Antofagasta, is still years away from becoming a reality. But the laying the groundwork with regulators for a controversial project like this begins long before an official mine plan submission.
It makes sense to halt work now. Twin Metals is the likeliest beneficiary of keeping any damaging science from the aborted study under wraps. Unlike PolyMet, another Minnesota copper mine, the proposed Twin Metals mine is actually within the BWCA watershed, a reality that dramatically amplifies concerns about potential pollution. There are also red flags about Antofagasta’s lobbying clout. One member of the billionaire family that controls the firm owns the Washington, D.C., mansion that Ivanka Trump rents.
Halting work at the state level to require transparency would be a forceful and unusual step. Contacted this week, Twin Metals officials voiced concerns about making the project a “political football” and making judgments about the project before specifics are officially available.
The company can thank U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue for prompting this call for gubernatorial action. Perdue made an appearance at Minnesota’s Farmfest earlier this month. He oversees the Forest Service, and the agency had launched the study of mining risks in the BWCA watershed under the Obama administration and still should wield immense authority over mining projects near the protected wilderness.
In comments at Farmfest, Perdue made clear there are no plans by his agency to release the data. He also shrugged off obligations for ensuring that mining can be done responsibly near the BWCA, instead dumping these responsibilities elsewhere — especially onto Minnesota’s governor. “The buck stops there,” he said.
That’s a shameful abdication of Perdue’s responsibilities, especially when much of the land on which Twin Metals would operate is federally owned. Perdue, who has declined an editorial writer’s ongoing interview requests, is also putting Minnesota regulators in a terrible spot. How can the state do its due diligence when the feds won’t share the latest science with them?
In response to the Editorial Board’s call for action, Walz signaled his anger with Perdue but did not agree to halt work. “It’s outrageous that Secretary Perdue is refusing to accept any responsibility for a mining project in the Superior National Forest. As governor, I have a responsibility to ensure that mining projects in Minnesota don’t move forward unless there is a rigorous environmental review and permitting process.
“This is especially the case for a project that is so close to the Boundary Waters. The manner in which we do our work can either bolster or undermine the trust Minnesotans have in governmental decisionmaking. Canceling the Forest Service’s environmental review and refusing to release the information gathered during the study undermines public trust in the process. The Forest Service should complete the study.”
Walz’s ire is welcome but if it’s not a game-changer, he must act. His ability to force transparency may be the only avenue left to determine if an administration that is weakening the Endangered Species Act, catering to oil companies and demonstrating other disdain for the environment is sitting on the BWCA data for the benefit of Chilean billionaires.