Western Caucus Efforts Pay Off: DOI Renews Mineral Leases Obama Killed

Oil rigs pump at sunrise on August 4, 2004 north of the Los Padres National Forest, Califo
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The United States Department of Interior (DOI) announced on Thursday that it is reinstating two mineral leases for operations in the Superior National Forest in Northern Minnesota that former President Barack Obama killed before leaving office.

“In the waning days of the Obama Administration, federal land management agencies took several actions that would decimate local economies, stifle job creation and cause significant harm to K-12 education in Northern Minnesota,” a press release issued by the House Western Caucus said.

“Specifically, the Obama Administration’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) inappropriately rejected Twin Metals Minnesota’s application to renew two hardrock mineral leases in Minnesota’s Superior National Forest — leases that were signed in 1966 and renewed without controversy in 1989 and 2004,” the release said. 

Also, on the day before President Donald Trump was sworn in, the Obama administration published a federal mineral withdrawal application in the Federal Register that put a 20-year moratorium on 234,328 acres in the same Minnesota national forest.

“This action immediately placed this vast area off-limits to future mineral leasing, exploration and potential development for two years while a 20-year withdrawal was being considered,” the press release said. “The total withdrawal application boundary spanned approximately 425,000 acres and included 95,000 acres of state school trust fund lands, 17,000 jobs, $3 billion for education, $1.5 billion in annual wages, $2.5 billion annually for our economy and a total of four billion tons of strategic-and-critical-mineral-containing ore were at risk if these political anti-mining actions by the Obama administration were not over [sic] overturned.”

“Mining on public lands balances conservation strategies and policies with the need to produce minerals that add value to the lives of all Americans by providing raw materials used in the manufacture of medical aids, automobiles, smartphones and computers, and household appliances,” DOI’s Assistant Secretary for Land and Minerals Management Joe Balash said of the action. 

“Under President Trump’s leadership and direction from the Secretary, this action may reduce the vulnerability to disruption of critical mineral supplies if it leads to the development and production of critical minerals in an environmentally responsible, regulatory-consistent, and economically feasible manner,” Balash said. “Mining strategic metals in the United States is beneficial to national security, national and local economies, and job creation.”

The House Western Caucus played a key role in correcting what members called “injustices” put in place under Obama.

In June 2017, Reps. Paul Gosar (R-AZ), Tom Emmer (R-MN), and Bruce Westerman (R-AR) toured several mining operations, held a roundtable discussion, and visited the proposed federal withdrawal area.

The lawmakers said the comments that they heard on the ground from American families, businesses, and individuals included wanting the federal government to support mining projects that create good-paying jobs.

On November 30, 2017, the House passed H.R. 3905, the Minnesota’s Economic Rights in the Superior National Forest Act, which Emmer introduced and which was co-sponsored by numerous members of the Western Caucus. 

“On September 6, 2018, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, announced that it has canceled the application for the Superior National Forest Withdrawal,” the Western Caucus press release said.

“In northern Minnesota, mining is our past, our present, and our future,” Rep. Pete Stauber (R-MN) said of the leases being reinstated. “With 21st-century technology, we can responsibly develop the resources needed for the modern world and unleash the economic engine of northeastern Minnesota.”

“Unfortunately, misinformed policies of the past have not only prevented the responsible development of our resources but have even prohibited companies like Twin Metals from even submitting a proposed mining plan,” Stauber said. “I applaud Secretary Bernhardt and the Trump Administration for putting politics aside and rightfully giving our miners the opportunity to meet or exceed all environmental standards.”

Gosar emphasized the benefits the reinstatement serves to local Minnesotans, saying, “Thanks to the Trump administration, tens of thousands of hard-working Americans in Northern Minnesota that were negatively impacted by the previous Administration’s political anti-mining actions, are one step closer to employment and economic prosperity as a result of today’s action by the Department of the Interior.”

“My colleagues on the other side of the aisle like to talk about how local voices are being forgotten,” Gosar said. “Yet, under the previous administration, the voices of many Northern Minnesotans were not only forgotten but were outright ignored and attacked. These include teachers, labor unions, miners, and local citizens who depend on revenues generated by mining for their very survival.”

“Following the Interior’s announcement today, I am pleased that the Trump administration acknowledges that we can responsibly develop our state’s resources – bringing jobs back to this region – while preserving the forests, lakes, and streams that all Minnesotans hold dear,” Emmer said. “Our state and local economies deserve to prosper, and we can ensure that, while also protecting Minnesota’s beauty for future generations. When it comes to protecting the environment and developing our economic assets, nobody does it better than Minnesota.”

The DOI said of the action:

Consistent with Executive Order 13817, A Federal Strategy to Ensure Secure and Reliable Supplies of Critical Minerals, signed by President Trump on March 26, 2017 and Secretarial Order 3359, Critical Mineral Independence and Security, Interior has renewed these hard rock mineral leases for the purpose of developing “world-class” deposits of copper, nickel, and palladium minerals on the Superior National Forest. The Bureau is entrusted with managing these onshore federal mineral resources on the basis of multiple use and sustained yield, which includes facilitating their development while also requiring mitigation of environmental impacts.

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