Kekekabic Lake in the Boundary Waters in Minnesota

Canoer on Kekekabic Lake in the Boundary Waters in Minnesota

(The Center Square) – President Joe Biden’s administration wants to lead an electric vehicle (EV) revolution, but apparently doesn’t want domestic production of rare earth minerals vital to EVs.

The Biden administration announced a two-year study on a proposed Twin Metals copper-nickel mine in northeast Minnesota that could delay it for 20 years and stop one of the few planned copper-nickel mines in the nation while the U.S attempts to pivot to EVs from gasoline-powered internal combustion vehicles. 

The Bureau of Land Management requested a 20-year “mineral withdrawal” for 225,378 acres of National Forest System lands in the Rainy River Watershed from future leasing and exploration development.

"A place like the Boundary Waters should be enjoyed by and protected for everyone, not only today but for future generations," Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said in a statement. "Today the Biden Administration is taking an important and sensible step to ensure that we have all the science and the public input necessary to make informed decisions about how mining activities may impact this special place."

In a joint statement, Sen. Tom Bakk, I-Cook, David Tomassoni DFL-Chisholm, and Justin Eichorn, R-Grand Rapids, called the announcement a “slap in the face” to Northern Minnesotans.

“Our state, our country, and the world needs mining,” they said. “This short-sighted action will force us to become more reliant on cheap labor and environmentally damaging foreign mines. I side with the workers who would be employed at an operational mine over the voices from the political extreme. The administration should not put politics over science.”

The lawmakers pointed out the ban on Minnesota copper-nickel mining will force the United States to rely on minerals often mined by minors overseas in unsafe working conditions.

“This is about letting an established process go forward and working to obtain a national source of precious metals that the U.S. can rely on for its new-age, carbon-free economy,” they said. “Shutting down the process completely is shortsighted and costly to the American worker. It forces the U.S. to rely on foreign sources of metal mined by cheap labor, performed often times by 12 year-old children."

Biden’s infrastructure plan calls for widespread spending on EV charging stations. He promised to convert the U.S. government fleet’s roughly 640,000 vehicles to EVs. But EVs require lithium-ion, copper, cobalt and nickel obtained through mining.

Benchmark Minerals Intelligence estimates the Biden administration's plan could require a 12-fold increase in U.S. lithium production by 2030, as well as increases in domestic output of domestic copper, nickel and cobalt.

“You can’t have green energy without mining,” Mark Senti, chief executive of Florida-based rare earth magnet company Advanced Magnet Lab Inc, told Reuters. “That’s just the reality.”

The group “Jobs for Minnesotans” called the action “arbitrary,” saying it will cost the state billions of dollars in lost revenue for K-12 education and thousands of jobs.

“This action contradicts the Biden administration’s commitments to address the climate crisis, shore up domestic supply chains and bolster American jobs,” they said in a statement. “We cannot call for more electric vehicles and clean energy sources on one hand, and then shut out the domestic development of the very minerals needed to make this transition.”

Environmentalists welcomed the news.

“This is a win for clean water. A win for science, the law and for the millions of people who have experienced the wonder of the Boundary Waters,” Chris Knopf, executive director at Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness, said in a statement. “This national treasure needs to be protected through sound, scientific principles, not the whims of special interests or industry. Today, the Biden administration signaled it would do just that.”

Staff Reporter

Scott McClallen is a staff writer covering Michigan and Minnesota for The Center Square. A graduate of Hillsdale College, his work has appeared on Forbes.com and FEE.org. Previously, he worked as a financial analyst at Pepsi.