Proposed nickel mine in Minnesota begins environmental review and would supply Tesla if approved

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Talon Metals Corp. on Wednesday filed paperwork with Minnesota regulators to start the environmental review process for its proposed underground nickel mine near the northern town of Tamarack, which would supply Tesla with nickel for electric car batteries.

The Department of Energy has already given the project a $114 million grant to build an ore processing plant in North Dakota, part of the Biden administration’s effort to boost domestic nickel production, lithium and other metals needed for electric vehicles and the fight against climate change. .

The funding contrasts with administration efforts to kill another proposed mining project in northern Minnesota, the Twin Metals copper-nickel mine near Ely, which sits just upriver from the pristine wilderness of Boundary Waters. Canoe Area. And the federal government earlier this month raised a new hurdle at the separate NewRange Copper Nickel mine near Babbitt when the Army Corps of Engineers revoked a crucial water quality permit.

The Talon mine may have the backing of the administration, but it already faces opposition from the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe and environmental groups. They are concerned about potential impacts to water resources and Indigenous communities in the area, about 115 miles (185 kilometers) north of Minneapolis. Like the NewRange and Twin Metals ore deposits, the metals are bound to sulphide minerals which can generate sulfuric acid when exposed to the environment.

The Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy said in a statement that the United States would do better to boost recycling to secure its supplies of nickel and other metals. Around the world, governments and companies advancing renewable energy have found themselves battling with communities opposed to similar projects, which critics have dubbed “green colonialism.”

“We are asked to trust mining practices that have not been proven safe elsewhere,” the Tribal Government states on its website, “and we are unwilling to risk our lands, our people, or our culture in the part of a security experiment for the gain of the enterprise.”

Talon Metals is a joint venture with British-Australian company Rio Tinto, the world’s second-largest mining and metals company, which has long been criticized by environmental and indigenous groups around the world. Talon has an agreement with Tesla to supply 75,000 metric tons (165 million pounds) of nickel concentrate and smaller amounts of cobalt and iron from the mine over six years once it enters commercial production.

Talon initiated the review process by submitting an environmental assessment worksheet to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. The agency will use the company’s assessment as a starting point to develop a more detailed environmental impact statement on the project, which will guide the ministry and other agencies in deciding whether to issue permits.

Talon said his plan contains many safeguards.

“We don’t believe that tackling climate change should come at the expense of the natural environment,” Talon CEO Henri van Rooyen said in a statement. “We can move to a clean energy system, protect the environment, respect tribal culture resources and self-determination, involve frontline communities and workers in project approvals, and create well-paying union jobs. It doesn’t have to be a choice.”

The review process historically takes several years, at least. The DNR launched a website on Wednesday outlining what Talon will face. But Talon hopes the mine design will speed things up enough that it can start production for Tesla in 2027.

The footprint of the mine would be small – only about 60 to 80 acres. No ore would be processed on site; it would be transported by boxcars to the drier environment of Mercer County in western North Dakota, where all waste would be sealed in concrete for storage. All water from mining operations would be collected and treated before being released into the environment. Access from surface to the high-grade orebody approximately 500 to 2,000 feet (150 to 600 meters) below surface would be through sealed and concrete-lined tunnels to limit groundwater infiltration.

Talon also praises the local economic benefits. It says the mine would employ about 300 unionized workers in addition to the nearly 100 people who already work at Tamarack, and would use unionized construction workers. It says approximately $100 million in mining royalties would go to state and local governments and the local school district, in addition to more than $7 million in taxes to cities, townships and local school districts in one of the counties. the poorest in Minnesota.

A major stumbling block for NewRange, still widely known by its original name PolyMet, and Twin Metals has been their proximity to Boundary Waters, the nation’s most-visited federally-designated wilderness area. New Range suffered another setback on Wednesday when the Minnesota Supreme Court reinstated an appeal by environmentalists against their challenge to the project’s air permit. But the Talon site is more than 90 miles (145 kilometers) southwest of these sites.

This distance does not dispel environmental or tribal concerns. The Mille Lacs Band points out that the site is less than two miles (three kilometers) from the homes of some of its members, and says the project poses significant risks to its inhabitants, water, fish, wild rice and medicinal plants.

Still, the Department of Natural Resources said Wednesday it was “committed to a rigorous, transparent, and neutral review of the project, based on science and applicable state law,” while acknowledging that Minnesotans have a broad range of opinions on the Talon mine and other projects.

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