Trump pushes mining with order, but effects are uncertain

Full Screen
1 / 3

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

FILE - This Feb. 9, 2016, file photo is the Hull-Rust Mahoning Mine viewed from the overlook in Hibbing, Minn. The Trump administration is seeking to fast-track mining projects and could offer grants and loans to help companies pay for equipment, administration officials said Thursday, Oct. 1, 2020, as they offered details on a plan that critics said could spoil rivers and lakes in Minnesota, Idaho and elsewhere with mining pollution. (AP Photo/Jim Mone, File)

BILLINGS, Mont. – The Trump administration is seeking to fast-track mining projects and could offer grants and loans to help companies pay for equipment, administration officials said Thursday, as they offered details on a plan that critics said could spoil rivers and lakes in Minnesota, Idaho and elsewhere with mining pollution.

With the election just over a month away, President Donald Trump signed an order late Wednesday declaring a national emergency over the country’s reliance on imported metals used to manufacture computers, smart phones, batteries for electric cars and other items. The order goes beyond the administration's prior focus on so-called critical minerals that are in short supply and applies to copper, nickel and other metals widely used in manufacturing.

It’s the latest in a string of actions by the administration meant to boost the mining industry by hastening environmental reviews and shielding companies from international market pressures. How effective it will be is uncertain: Mines typically need approval from state regulators in addition to the federal government, giving opponents more than one avenue to block projects.

Trump adviser Peter Navarro described how the order could be used to transform the resource-rich Iron Range area in the election-battleground state of Minnesota from an iron mining area into a more diverse mining district, thereby lessening dependence on materials from countries such as China.

“The vision here is to turn the Iron Range in northeast Minnesota ... into the copper range, the nickel range, the cobalt range, the platinum range and palladium range as well,” Navarro told reporters in a telephone briefing.

Opponents worry the proposed Twin Metals underground copper-nickel mine near Ely could ruin the pristine Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness downstream, a project the Obama administration tried to kill. They're also opposed to a separate project nearby, the proposed PolyMet mine near Babbitt. Both deposits also have smaller but economically significant amounts of cobalt, platinum, palladium and gold.

Trump's order applies to projects nationwide, officials said, listing more than a dozen states with significant mineral deposits including California, New Mexico, Colorado, Nevada, Montana, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

Environmentalists raised specific concerns about its implications for Minnesota's Iron Range, the proposed Resolution copper mine in Arizona and the Midas gold mine project in Idaho.