How Cozy Is Twin Metals With the Trump Administration?


A little over a year ago the Trump administration announced it would reinstate Twin Metals’ expired mineral leases at the edge of the Boundary Waters. Later that year, the Administration canceled a study into a 20-year moratorium on sulfide mining in parts of the Superior National Forest.

These moves went against public opinion, previous legal decisions and scientific concern over the harmful effects of sulfide mining.

It was a huge victory for the mining companies who want to open the region up to copper-sulfide mining.

In particular, it was a huge victory for Antofagasta, the Chilean-owned mining conglomerate seeking to open a sulfide mine at the edge of the Boundary Waters.

Lobbying to mine near the Boundary Waters

Why were officials in the Department of the Interior (DOI) so quick to reverse course and do these favors for foreign-owned mining companies?

Letter from the CEO of Antofagasta to Ryan Zinke

Letter from the CEO of Antofagasta to Ryan Zinke

It’s a question many of us have had.

About a year ago, a private citizen named Louis Galdieri made a Freedom of Information Act request and has recently received almost 5,000 pages concerning the Trump Administration’s 2018 decision to revive the expired Federal mineral leases adjacent to the Boundary Waters.

Mr. Galdieri has done a lot of work combing through these documents and he’s found troubling evidence of a foreign corporation (Antofagasta) lobbying and influencing the Department of the Interior to reverse the December, 2016 decision that resulted in lease expiration.

For example, these documents show a letter from the CEO of Antofagasta, Ivan Arriagada to then Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke, requesting a meeting to discuss “the Twin Metals Minnesota project” (see page 3579), as well as meetings between Arriagada or his council and key Department of the Interior officials (see page 720 and page 701).

However, we do not know exactly what was said in these meetings.

Now, it’s not illegal for a foreign corporation or government to lobby federal officials. And many countries spend tens of millions of dollars each year, trying to influence public policy.

Again, it’s not illegal. Though it might not seem right.

Lobbying efforts by foreign corporations threaten the pristine water of the BWCAW

Lobbying efforts by foreign corporations threaten the pristine water of the BWCAW

Investigating the influence

On March 1st, Minnesota Rep. Betty McCollum (D) along with Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.), and Rep. Alan Lowenthal (D-Calif.) demanded that the Department of Agriculture and the Department of the Interior turn over documents relating to the unusual steps these agencies took to advance the construction of a copper-sulfide mine at the edge of the Boundary Waters.

In the letter, which can be read here, the three chairs question the legal opinion of Deputy Solicitor Daniel Jorjani, who argued that the decision not to renew the leases was based on a legal error, specifically a misreading of the terms of the original leases. Far from being an insulated legal opinion, they note there were plenty of other factors influencing his opinion:

The background of DOI’s Principal Deputy Solicitor, Daniel Jorjani, is also a concern. Prior to issuing his convoluted and legally questionable opinion reversing the expiration of Twin Metals’ mining leases near the Boundary Waters, Jorjani made a career helping companies acquire energy resources in foreign countries. This is strikingly similar to what he is doing now: handing U.S. resources to Antofagasta, the Chilean owner of Twin Metals. Antofagasta met with Jorjani three times in the months leading up to the issuance of his opinion in December 2017.

Something seems to be amiss. Whatever your stance on mining might be, the idea that a foreign corporation can influence the federal government to act in a way that is contrary to public opinion and contrary to science should be alarming.

We’re not sure what will come from these documents, but we’ll be monitoring the situation closely and keep you informed with any developments.

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