It’s Tuesday, January 31, and the Biden administration is protecting Minnesota from mining.

A lake within the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, Ely, MN

In a victory for the United States’ most visited wilderness area, the Biden administration has approved a 20-year ban on new mining activity across more than 225,000 acres of federal land in Minnesota’s Superior National Forest, in and around the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

”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,” Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said in a statement. A federal review released last year found that mining could damage the region’s forests, lakes, and food systems, in part because of potential contamination from acid mine drainage. Mining pollution would pose “disproportionate adverse risk to Native American and low-income communities,” the review said.

The decision has been called a potentially “fatal blow” to a $1.7 billion copper and nickel mine proposed by Twin Metals Minnesota LLC. The company had sought to extract minerals in Ely, Minnesota — just outside the vast wilderness area — but the Biden administration canceled the company’s two federal mining leases last year, saying they had been issued improperly by the Trump administration. Twin Metals sued to get the leases reinstated, but experts say the new mining moratorium makes it unlikely the company will be able to move forward.

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The conflict is just one of many across the U.S. in which the need for clean-energy minerals — used in electric vehicle batteries, solar panels, and other renewable technologies — is at odds with conservation goals and tribal rights. A proposed gold and copper mine in Alaska, for instance, has faced pushback over threats to the state’s salmon habitats. In northern Nevada, tribes have fought to stop a proposed lithium mine, arguing they weren’t sufficiently consulted or informed about how it would impact their lands.

“We need to decarbonize and electrify as soon as possible, but there are ways to do that that don’t put these places at risk and sacrifice them,” Blaine Miller-McFeeley, a senior legislative representative for the legal nonprofit Earthjustice, told me. To protect communities and the environment, he called for updated regulations that allow federal land managers to more easily designate areas off-limits to resource extraction.

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Editor’s note: Earthjustice is an advertiser with Grist. Advertisers have no role in Grist’s editorial decisions.

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