Forest Service Retirees’ Letter on Twin Metals Mining Project Minnesota

This is from Minnesota here thanks to the Center for Western Priorities newfeed. What is interesting to me about it is not this particular topic, but the idea of retirees weighing in by writing letters about projects.  Is this common or rare? Certainly as readers of this blog can tell from just Jon Haber and I, there are probably as many opinions as retirees. It’s definitely worth talking about-when should we speak up?  In different cases, would that cause retirees who think differently to also write a letter to the Secretaries? How would that work out? Certainly retirees know much stuff, and could add to the public discourse, as we do here.

The letter submitted to federal officials this week asks for the federal government to pause that process by completing the study of the proposed 20-year mining ban, and to suspend Twin Metals’ leases until legal challenges to those lease reinstatements are heard in court.

The letter does not mention the proposed PolyMet mine, which earlier this year received the final permits it needs to begin construction. The company is now trying to raise the roughly $1 billion it will need to build the state’s first ever copper-nickel mine.

Brenda Halter, who retired as Forest Supervisor for the Superior National Forest in 2016, helped draft the letter. She said all the signatories have professional experience working on projects related to the Boundary Waters.

Under her leadership, the Forest Service approved a land exchange in which it agreed to trade federal land where PolyMet intends to dig its open pit mine with privately held land elsewhere in the forest. That decision has since been challenged in federal court.

Halter acknowledged the role she played with PolyMet, which she said was to make sure the legal process and the science were followed to help inform the agency’s decision, can seem contradictory with the stance she’s taken on Twin Metals.

“[But] I feel very strongly on a personal and professional level that a copper-nickel mine adjacent to millions of acres of water-based ecosystem is simply an incompatible use,” she said.

Maybe Tony can add some information here.

8 thoughts on “Forest Service Retirees’ Letter on Twin Metals Mining Project Minnesota”

  1. The Twin Metals Mine is owned and headed up by Chilean billionaire businessman Andrónico Luksic…who just so happens to be renting a D.C. mansion he bought just after Trump became president to Donald Trump’s daughter Ivanka and husband Jared Kushner.

    More at:

    Minnesota activists have gone to court challenging the Trump administration’s approval of a wilderness area ore mine to be operated by a billionaire Chilean who owns the mansion that Ivanka Trump rents in Washington.

    A coalition of Minnesota businesses, environmental advocates and outdoor recreation groups asked for a summary judgment last month in their lawsuit against the Interior Department and Chilean copper conglomerate Antofagasta’s local subsidiary. The company plans an extensive sulfide-ore mine to extract copper and nickel in Minnesota’s Rainy River watershed, which drains into the protected 1.1 million-acre Boundary Waters wilderness area.

    The lawsuit challenges the Trump administration’s reversal of an Obama-era decision blocking the mine and requiring an environmental impact study. Some of the mine would be on U.S. Forest Service land, and the lawsuit asks a federal judge to rule that the Trump administration wrongly reinstated mineral leases for the Antofagasta subsidiary, called Twin Metals Minnesota, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported….

    Antofagasta is a family-owned company headed by Chilean businessman Andrónico Luksic, who bought a $5.5 million mansion in Washington shortly after Donald Trump won the presidency. Luksic now rents the mansion to the first daughter and husband Jared Kushner for $15,000 a month, The Wall Street Journal has reported.

    Richard Painter, who was President George W. Bush’s chief ethics lawyer and is now a law professor at the University of Minnesota, accused the Trump administration of allowing Luksic to use the Boundary Waters area “as his toilet.”

    Painter told Newsweek that the landlord-tenant relationship between Luksic and Ivanka Trump “looks bad.” Trump and Kushner “have enough money [that] they could have bought a house or rented something from somebody who wasn’t trying to get things from the U.S. government,” he said.

    Trump and Kushner “were not aware” of the link between the mining operation and their landlord, a White House official told The Wall Street Journal in 2017. A spokesman for Luksic said he purchased the mansion as an investment and renting it to the president’s family was coincidental, according to the Journal.

    The mining planned by Antofgasta has serious environmental risks because copper is extracted from sulfur-bearing ore. When exposed to oxygen or water, the ore generates toxic sulfuric acid that can pollute nearby waters, the Star Tribune noted.

  2. Quite a few articles about the retirees’ letter, some obviously written by reporters who have access to the letter, but no links to the letter for the rest of us?

    Does anyone have a copy of the letter to share with the group?

  3. Speak up whenever you want to!!! It’s public land and each retiree is a member of the public. There’s no question in my mind as to whether or not a retiree can or should speak up. Very valuable to the process to have the perspective of folks who have professional knowledge of an issue or decision.
    After you retire you have the freedom, and right, to speak up! Go ahead and exercise your right.

  4. The Twin Metals situation is perhaps one of the most “wicked problems” that exists today. It could be summarized as a “jobs vs. environment” conflict, but that is not respectful of this situation’s complexity. One additional facet to the conflict is the nature of the resources of concern: world-class ore deposit and a world-class Wilderness area. This highlights that this particular situation’s conflict is driven by values more than any particular scientific information.

    What is interesting to me is whether FS retirees who sign letters or submit comments are expecting a greater weight attributed to them because they are former Agency employees. I agree with Oldwoodsman that having professional knowledge of a situation can add credibility to one’s comments, but I also believe that it does not add “voting weight” – it only means the retiree knows what they are talking about.

    So, a letter signed by retirees, in my opinion, is no more valuable than a letter signed by credible scientists or reputable activists. That letter adds to the information base that the FS decision maker will consider in making a decision.

    Though, I am not naïve in understanding that retirees continue maintaining their networks, which include people who CAN influence an outcome. I am sure that many who are watching this conflict unfold hope that the decision is made transparently out of respect for the public lands at issue rather than in backrooms or hallways.

  5. Tony, I wondered about that a bit. I tried to place myself in three positions (retiree) (current employee) and (member of the public). I have paid my dues reviewing oil and gas and coal EIS’s, and dealing with appeals and litigation on those topics.

    As a retiree, I saw “go for it”! As a current employee, say working on the EIS, I might say “how could you possibly make a good decision, if you don’t know all the current stuff I know?” If I were the line officer, I might say “you are potentially setting me up as a “bad girl” if I don’t make the decision you agree with.” I think of some religious denominations in which the former minister goes away for a number of years to give the new minister a chance to flourish on her own merits.

    As the public, I might wonder “do folks currently in the FS also decide in advance and then just go through the motions of doing an EIS? If that’s the case, those darn things are expensive, and why bother and waste taxpayer $?”

    So I do feel mixed about it, and it definitely sets my relational fine hairs a-tingling.

    • I understand completely, Sharon. With energy-related decisions, the decision making process is more convoluted than your typical vegetation management decision.

      The statutes for energy matters help authorize “rights” to people who hold written instruments (i.e., leases). Once a lease is authorized, the lease holder has the right to develop oil, gas, minerals, etc. even if that lease is years old. So, when development becomes a reality, the average citizen cannot alter that development through a federal decision making process because the Government has acknowledged that development when it issued the lease.

      This is why we are seeing the increasing volume of concern now through letters instead of in the past when the lease was issued. It is one of the few options available to citizens.

      • Ah thanks, “convoluted” is a good word. Yes, this situation is really different from what I am used to, which is usually the leasing availability decisions or lease mods.

  6. It’s a little unusual for a federal retiree to oppose a decision that they contributed to when they were employed. That should score higher than most on the knowledge/credibility scale – if that’s important to a decision-maker. If not, as the interested public, you still want the agency to go through the motions because attacking that process may be all you’ve got. Good for Brenda (who once literally but mistakenly thought she was my boss).


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