Interior places obstacles to release of Twin Metals records in formal response letter to FOIA request
April 28, 2022
(Washington, DC) – This past week, the Department of the Interior (DOI) responded to the Functional Government Initiative regarding our investigation into the cancellation of the Twin Metals leases near the Boundary Water Canoe Area Wilderness in Minnesota. DOI determined that FGI’s request for records surrounding the cancellation would not enhance the public’s understanding of the agency’s controversial decision.
The stunning claim came in the context of a request for a fee waiver under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Under FOIA, government agencies are not allowed to charge fees when the release of documents is “in the public interest because it is likely to contribute significantly to public understanding of government operations or activities.” This past week, Interior determined that releasing documents related to Twin Metals to FGI does not qualify, opening the door for Interior to hide the documents from the American people unless FGI agrees to pay ransom in the form of exorbitant fees.
The current Administration has made no secret of the fact that fighting climate change is one of their top priorities. However, they remain extremely inconsistent in their policy decisions surrounding the issue. One day they are handing out billions in new taxpayer loans and subsidies for electric vehicles (EV) and restricting federal approval of new pipelines, but the next day they are tapping the Strategic Petroleum Reserve and calling hostile foreign dictators to establish new lines of oil delivery. The shortage of critical minerals necessary to build wind turbines, solar panels, and EV batteries for the “great transition” has been well-publicized. It’s also well-established that we are overly reliant on China for many of these minerals.
Enter Twin Metals, one of the largest critical minerals mines in the country. If allowed to be developed, the mine could greatly reduce America’s long-term shortage of critical minerals and further the Administration’s renewable energy goals. The site sits on an estimated 95 percent of America’s nickel reserves and 88 percent of its cobalt reserves.
By canceling these leases, as the Department of the Interior did earlier this year, the government is forcing domestic EV companies to rely on China for the extraction of these essential minerals. China currently controls an estimated 85 percent of the global supply of these minerals. In light of the President’s recent invoking of the Defense Production Act to aid domestic production and ostensibly advance just this type of project, it is mystifying why Secretary Haaland and senior leaders at Interior and USDA have made the decisions they did. The bottom line is that with consequences as detrimental as these, allowing the public to review the records on the Interior Department’s actions on the Twin Metals mine is most certainly in the public’s interest.
Peter McGinnis, spokesman for FGI, issued the following statement:
“Interior’s suggestion that releasing the records surrounding the cancellation of the Twin Metals leases to FGI is not in the public’s interest is extremely concerning given the magnitude of Secretary Haaland’s decision. By seeking to impose fees for documents produced by public servants, on public time, and with public resources, the agency is throwing up unjustified barriers to the public learning which special interests stopped the domestic production of much-needed critical minerals. In the meantime, China seems to be the primary beneficiary. FGI is appealing this decision and will notify the public as we actively fight for transparency.”