The Biden administration blocked plans for a major nickel and cobalt mine in northern Minnesota Thursday while the U.S. remains reliant on overseas supply chains for its critical minerals.
The “Twin Metals Project” would have tapped the Duluth Complex within the Superior National Forest, where 95 percent of the nation’s nickel reserves and 88 percent of American cobalt reserves remain underground.
Now, pending litigation over leases, the Department of the Interior has blocked the nearly $3 billion mine over concerns about the safety of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness inside the national forest.
“The Department of the Interior takes seriously our obligations to steward public lands and waters on behalf of all Americans,” Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said in a press release. “Protecting a place like Boundary Waters is key to supporting the health of the watershed and its surrounding wildlife, upholding our Tribal trust and treaty responsibilities, and boosting the local recreation economy.”
The department withdrew more than 225,000 acres of the Superior National Forest from consideration for mining operations, ensuring the Twin Metals project’s demise for the foreseeable future.
The agency’s decision to block the project, however, is a major step back for American mineral independence while the government’s mining regime remains so broken that the administration is shopping in Canada for natural resources.
Debra Struhsacker, a hardrock mining and environmental policy expert who has testified before Congress five times, told The Federalist the administration’s refusal to allow the Twin Metals project to move forward is premature.
“It is truly unfortunate that at a time when there is widespread recognition that the U.S. urgently needs the copper, nickel, and cobalt in the Twin Metals mineral deposit to help achieve the nation’s clean energy objectives, that this world-class deposit is now off-limits for at least two decades,” Struhsacker said. “The public’s interest would have been better served if the administration had performed a rigorous environmental analysis under the National Environmental Policy Act to examine the specifics of Twin Metal’s proposed mining project and determine whether the deposit could have been developed in a way that would have ensured environmental protection of the Boundary Waters Area Watershed.”
Meanwhile, a report from the left-leaning Brookings Institute published last fall warned about the severe vulnerability presented in mineral supply chains by an overreliance on overseas adversaries. Even as leftist lawmakers want to ramp up the use of emissions-free energy technologies that require critical minerals, the Biden administration has slow-walked efforts to reform the U.S. regulatory regime over mining.
Beijing stands to benefit the most from Washington’s neglect.
According to Brookings, nearly 70 percent of the world’s cobalt comes from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), where workers often operate in sub-human conditions complete with child labor. The Chinese have out-invested every global competitor in the Congolese mines.
More than 30 percent of the world’s nickel comes from Indonesia, where the Chinese are also investing heavily to cement a sphere of communist influence. The East Asian island country has also struggled to mine sustainably.
Republican Rep. Pete Stauber, who represents the district in northern Minnesota where the White House has doomed the Twin Metals Project, called the administration’s ruling “an attack on our way of life.”
“Unfortunately, this harm to our country and our future has become the norm, as this President’s goal is to put America last,” Stauber said in a press release. “Not even one month ago, Joe Biden signed an agreement to fund mining projects in Chinese-owned mines in the Congo, where over 40,000 children work as slaves in forced labor and inhumane conditions with no environmental protections.”
Last week, Politico highlighted President Biden’s African pivot to counter Chinese dominance on the continent’s lucrative mines.
“In a memorandum of understanding Wednesday, the State Department pledged to help build an EV battery supply chain in Congo and Zambia,” E&E News reported. “The department and other U.S. agencies will offer technical assistance to the two countries, cooperate on feasibility studies and explore opportunities in the sector for U.S. companies, according to the [memorandum].”
Last year, House Republicans launched an investigation into Hunter Biden’s involvement with the sale of a Congolese cobalt mine to a Chinese company in 2016.
Meanwhile, President Biden’s Department of the Interior has stonewalled efforts at effective oversight of the agency’s decisions surrounding the Twin Metals project.
In May last year, the department demanded thousands of dollars to release records on an earlier decision to cancel leases.
Peter McGinnis, a spokesman for the Functional Government Initiative (FGI), which filed the request for documents under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), told The Federalist Thursday the department eventually waived the fee but has yet to comply with the public transparency law.
“On the one hand, the Biden administration is advocating for a clean-energy transition and claims it is fixing the supply chain crisis,” McGinnis said. “On the other, it is cutting off access to domestic supplies of the raw materials needed to make that transition happen and leaving us more dependent on China for these critical minerals.”
Tristan Justice is the western correspondent for The Federalist. He has also written for The Washington Examiner and The Daily Signal. His work has also been featured in Real Clear Politics and Fox News. Tristan graduated from George Washington University where he majored in political science and minored in journalism. Follow him on Twitter at @JusticeTristan or contact him at Tristan@thefederalist.com.