The Biden administration announced Thursday that it would wrap up a 20-year withdrawal of a forest in Minnesota, equaling 225,504 acres, that is home to some of the most substantial domestic critical mineral reserves.
The move was announced by the Department of the Interior (DOI) and prohibits mining activity in the Duluth, Minnesota, Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and surrounding area for the next two decades. The DOI said it moved to protect mining activities that would contaminate the watershed and local environment, which brought environmentalists concern.
“The Department of the Interior takes seriously our obligations to steward public lands and waters on behalf of all Americans. 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,” said Deb Haaland, DOI Secretary, in a statement.
“With an eye toward protecting this special place for future generations, I have made this decision using the best-available science and extensive public input,” continued Haaland.
Last year, two mineral leases were canceled by the DOI held by the company Twin Metals Minnesota, located in the Superior National Forest, which is outside the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.
Resulting from the decision and the Thursday action, domestic mining companies will be banned from operating in the area for the foreseeable future, and the vast crucial mineral resources of the forest will remain untapped.
However, the Twin Metals’ mining project held about 88% of the U.S.’s cobalt reserves in addition to nickel, copper, and platinum-group elements. Those minerals are critical for numerous green energy technologies, including battery storage facilities, wind turbines, and electric vehicle batteries, which the Biden administration has heavily pushed.
For instance, an electric vehicle requires 500% more mineral resources than an average gas-powered car. Likewise, as reported to the International Energy Agency, a single onshore wind turbine plant requires 800% more minerals than a typical fossil fuel plant.
Cancellation hands hostile nations with human rights concerns monopoly on the market
Yet, China and other hostile countries and nations with serious human rights concerns dictate the global mineral supply chain. The State Department recently inked an agreement that opens the door to funding mining projects in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), which mined over 70% of the global cobalt supply in 2021 and is home to 3.5 million metric tons of cobalt reserves.
However, independent investigations conducted in recent years have determined that the DRC’s cobalt mines use child laborers.
“If Democrats were serious about developing renewable energy sources and breaking China’s stranglehold on the global market, they would be flinging open the doors to responsible mineral development here in the U.S.,” said Republican Representative Bruce Westerman of Arkansas, House Natural Resources Committee Chairman said in a Thursday statement.
“We cannot have a future of renewable energy without minerals, period — not to mention their necessity to our defense systems, satellites, cellphones, and virtually every other advanced technology,” said Westerman.
“While Democrats play political ping pong with American industries, China and Russia are laughing straight to the bank,” said Westerman. “The administration’s decision to withdraw this mineral-rich area — blatantly targeting one of our country’s most promising mines — is short-sighted, foolish, and completely unscientific.”
He continued, “Unfortunately, President Biden doesn’t seem to mind if Minnesota mining communities and the entire American economy pay the price.”
Additionally, the Superior National Forest mining projects had a labor agreement for the project in place for the site to be unionized.
“It’s difficult to square the announcement of this significant land withdrawal with the Biden administration’s stated goals on electrification, the energy transition, and supply chain security,” said Rich Nolan, National Mining Association CEO and President, in a statement.
“At a time when demand for minerals such as copper, nickel, and cobalt are skyrocketing for use in electric vehicles and solar and wind infrastructure, the administration is withdrawing hundreds of thousands of acres of land that could provide U.S. manufacturers with plentiful sources of these same minerals,” said Nolan.
“In the end, by closing off more and more U.S. land to responsible domestic mining instead of producing minerals here at home, creating high-paying American jobs and mining operations that will be conducted in accordance with the world’s most stringent environmental, labor and safety regulations, the administration is looking to stand up operations in the Congo and Zambia,” added Nolan.
Nolan continued, “It’s nonsensical when you look at where the U.S. wants to be globally as a leader in manufacturing, innovation, and climate.”