Antofagasta’s Twin Metals sues US government over Minnesota copper project

The underground copper, nickel, cobalt and platinum group metals mining project is located in northeast Minnesota. (Image courtesy of Twin Metals.)

Antofagasta Plc’s Twin Metals subsidiary sued the US government on Monday in a bid to revive its proposed Minnesota copper and nickel mine, which Biden administration officials had blocked this year over concerns it could pollute a major recreational waterway.

The suit, which had been expected, said the lease cancellations in January by the US Department of the Interior were “arbitrary and capricious” and that Twin Metals should have the right to prove its project can meet environmental standards.

The underground mine would, if built, be a major US source of copper and nickel, two metals crucial for the green energy transition. The only existing US nickel mine is set to close by 2025.

A measure passed by Congress this month would link the electric vehicle tax credit to minerals produced in the United States or in allied nations, a requirement that Twin Metals said shows its mine should be built.

Representatives for the Interior Department could not immediately be reached for comment.

Twin Metals asked the US District Court in Washington to restore the leases, which were first granted in 1966 and have been passed between successor companies. No mining has taken place at the site.

“Our leases were illegally canceled by the government, and we want to stand up for what’s right and what’s prescribed by law,” said Dean DeBeltz, Twin Metals’ director of operations and safety.

Opponents say that US environmental standards are too lax and even if Twin Metals were to meet them, the proposed mine could pollute the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, a 1 million-acre (405,000-hectare) preserve on the US-Canada border.

“A water-rich environment is the wrong place to mine,” said Becky Rom of the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters, a Minnesota conservation group. “The lawsuit is almost a (last ditch) effort on their part to try to somehow shoehorn in a mine.”

Both DeBeltz and Rom live near the proposed mine site, and both have used their personal proximity to argue for and against the mine, respectively.

The White House last fall proposed a 20-year ban on mining in the Boundary Waters, a separate but related step to halt the mine. That proposed ban is in the regulatory review process now. Congress is considering legislation that would permanently ban mining in the region.

Ivan Arriagada, chief executive of Chile-based Antofagasta, told Reuters earlier this month that he expects the rising demand for EV metals to work in the project’s favor.

“The wave seems to be moving in the direction of realizing that these projects need to be done,” he said.

(By Ernest Scheyder and Clara Denina; Editing by Chris Reese and David Gregorio)


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