By WCCO-TV Staff

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO/AP) — The Biden administration dealt a serious blow Wednesday to the proposed Twin Metals copper-nickel mine in northeastern Minnesota, ordering a study that could lead to a 20-year ban on mining upstream from the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

The government said it has filed an application for a “mineral withdrawal,” which would begin with a comprehensive study of the likely environmental and other impacts of mining if it were permitted in the watershed that flows into the Boundary Waters.

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“This is a win for clean water. A win for science, the law and for the millions of people who have experienced the wonder of the Boundary Waters,” Chris Knopf, executive director at Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness, said. “This national treasure needs to be protected through sound, scientific principles, not the whims of special interests or industry. Today, the Biden administration signaled it would do just that.”

Congresswoman Betty McCollum, who has introduced legislation to protect the BWCAW from copper mining, commended the Biden administration announcement that aims at completing a “science-based environmental analysis.”

“Today’s action by the Biden administration is a welcome return to the science-based decision making that should govern the management of our public lands,” Rep. McCollum said. “After years of broken promises and ongoing obstruction of taxpayer-funded data from the prior administration, I am pleased that President Biden is committed to completing the necessary analysis to understand the impacts that sulfide-ore mining could have on this priceless reserve of fresh water, the biodiverse habitat it supports, and the economic livelihood of the surrounding community. All of us who care deeply about protecting the pristine Boundary Waters and its watershed for future generations look forward to seeing the results of this comprehensive study.”

The Obama administration tried to kill the project when it launched a similar process in its final weeks, citing the potential threat to the Boundary Waters from acid mine drainage from the underground mine near Ely.

But the Trump administration cancelled the previous mineral withdrawal study 20 months into the 24-month process, and reinstated the project’s federal mineral rights leases, which the Obama administration had decided not to renew.

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State Rep. Spencer Igo, R-Grand Rapids, released a statement opposed to the move by the Biden administration.

“[The] announcement shows that Democrats and the Biden Administration have a clear and blatant disregard for communities on the Iron Range and our way of life,” Igo said. “Copper-nickel mining in northern Minnesota should be the linchpin of President Biden’s plans to secure the critical minerals needed to build the world of tomorrow. Instead, this decision will force America to continue its dependence on foreign nations like China and the Democratic Republic of Congo for the raw materials needed for our future economy—further emboldening nations that engage in serious human rights and environmental abuses while putting our already strained supply chains at risk.”

When Twin Metals, which is owned by the Chilean mining giant Antofagasta, submitted its formal mine plan to federal and state regulators in 2019, the company said its design would prevent any acid drainage and protect the wilderness from pollution.

Environmental groups disputed that claim and challenged the lease renewals in federal court, in a case that’s still pending.

(© Copyright 2021 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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