Sept 8 (Reuters) - U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack
said on Wednesday he is waiting for a legal opinion before
deciding whether to approve Minnesota's Twin Metals copper
mining project, which labor unions support but environmentalists
"We continue to wait for the Department of the Interior.
They have to issue a legal opinion before we know what direction
we need to take" at the Agriculture Department, Vilsack told a
White House news conference.
The U.S. Forest Service, part of the Agriculture Department,
controls the surface land at the site. The U.S. Bureau of Land
Management, part of the Interior Department, controls the
underground copper deposit and must approve plans to extract
Interior Secretary Deb Haaland declined to discuss the
when asked at a congressional hearing this year by U.S.
Representative Pete Stauber, a Minnesota Republican whose
district includes the mine site.
The proposed underground mine would, if built, be a major
U.S. copper supplier as President Joe Biden aims to build more
electric vehicles, which use twice as much of the red metal as
those with internal combustion engines. Opponents fear the
project would permanently mar the Boundary Waters Canoe Area
Wilderness on the U.S.-Canada border.
Twin Metals has said the project can be constructed safely
and in a way that boosts the region's economy.
Vilsack had blocked the Twin Metals project when he served
as agriculture secretary under President Barack Obama, only to
see that decision reversed by President Donald Trump's
Vilsack in June said https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-biden-antofagasta-idCAKBN2CM1WS
that as part of his deliberations he was trying to balance
environmental concerns and economic potential.
Twin Metals, controlled by Chile's Antofagasta Plc,
said in a statement it "looks forward to continuing to
constructively engage the administration and advance the
environmental review of the project."
Vilsack has the power to block mining in the region for 20
years, though a bill introduced in the U.S. Congress this year
could permanently ban it.
(Reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt in Washington and Ernest
Scheyder in Houston
Editing by Matthew Lewis and David Gregorio)