DULUTH -- A Minnesota delegation visited Washington, D.C., this week to appeal to lawmakers following the Biden administration’s pause last week on copper-nickel mining leases near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

“We want a fair process,” said Ida Rukavina, the newly hired executive director of Range Area Municipalities and Schools. “Biden and his administration are talking about clean energy, windmills, electric vehicles and batteries — all of that takes minerals and the Duluth Complex has those minerals.”

Rukavina was joined by state Rep. Dave Lislegard, DFL-Aurora; Brian Hanson, chair of Jobs for Minnesotans, and Jason George, representing the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 49, in visiting with U.S. Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith, both Democrats, about Biden’s decision.

Rukavina, a former staffer with Klobuchar, did not sit in on the meeting with her former boss, she said.

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“I believe in clean energy and working toward that — I drive an electric car,” Rukavina said. “But we need to be accurate about all of the minerals needed to do that.”

The group also spoke with U.S. Rep. Pete Stauber, R-Hermantown, and hoped to connect with U.S. Rep. Angie Craig, DFL-Eagan. The contingent failed to land meetings with the U.S. Interior and Agriculture departments, which jointly made last week’s announcement of a two-year pause to study the impacts of non-ferrous mining.

The northern Minnesota contingent said it wanted answers about why the Biden administration chose a blanket action versus carrying forward with studies and analysis of existing mine plans.

“We already have a mine plan of operations in place in front of them that’s supposed to determine the scope of the actual project,” Hanson said. “Why wouldn’t we proceed with that versus this generic study?”

Brian Hanson
Brian Hanson

Opponents of the proposed Twin Metals and copper-nickel mining in the Rainy River Watershed celebrated last week’s announcement, calling it “a significant win for Boundary Waters protection.”

“This is a great first step on the pathway to permanent protection. The appropriate next step for the administration is to revoke the two Twin Metals leases that the Trump administration unlawfully reinstated,” Becky Rom, national chair of the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters, said in a statement.

With the pause, Hanson said non-ferrous mining advocates now turn their attention to preventing harder lines from being drawn on 230,000 acres within the Superior National Forest.

“It’s ridiculous,” Hanson said. “The lines are already drawn. We’re not talking about a national park here; we’re talking about a working national forest and it doesn’t make sense when mining is a ‘preferred condition.’”

Hanson said that Sen. Smith, in their meeting, reiterated her consistent position in favor of the pause.

"At the same time, we were able to share our grave concerns," he said.

The Duluth Complex of Northeastern Minnesota bedrock features some of the richest deposits of copper, nickel, and platinum in the country. Hanson said the group of advocates will also turn its focus to preventing mineral leases, such as Twin Metals’ leases through 2029, from being rescinded.

“Keeping the mineral leases in place during this period is something we’d like to accomplish,” Hanson said.

Rukavina noted there is gold mining happening in the same watershed in Canada.

“Everyone wants clean water,” Rukavina said. “We all live here and we want mining to be done the right way. But when people are saying no mining at all in northern Minnesota or in the Rainy River Watershed, there is already non-ferrous mining going on in Canada. This (proposal) is outside the Boundary Waters, outside the buffer zone created to protect the Boundary Waters.”