To refine nickel from the planned Minnesota mine, the federal government has offered $114 million. This money will be used to construct a plant in North Dakota.

With the help of $114 million from the federal government, a company in North Dakota that plans to supply the electric vehicle market with minerals used to make batteries can begin construction on an underground nickel mine in northeastern Minnesota.

Twenty processing and manufacturing companies in 12 states, including Talon Metals’ subsidiary Talon Nickel, were awarded a total of $2.8 billion to “expand domestic manufacturing of batteries for electric vehicles and the electrical grid,” according to a White House press release published on Monday.

This funding originates from last year’s federal infrastructure law.

China is currently responsible for 75% of global battery production, and for certain battery components (and) critical materials, China controls nearly 50% of global production. At a White House event on Monday, Vice President Joe Biden said, “Today, we’re stepping up to really take it back — not all of it.” He went on to say that the federal government is establishing objectives and taking measures “to make sure we’re back in the game.”

This award will help finance roughly 27% of Talon’s planned ore-processing facility and tailings management site at an industrial brown site in Mercer County, North Dakota. Currently, Talon is in talks to buy the property. Ore from Talon’s planned Tamarack mine and other North American sources would be shipped to the plant in east-central North Dakota.

As part of a six-year agreement signed earlier this year, electric car manufacturer Tesla Inc. and Talon agreed that Tesla would purchase 75,000 metric tons (165 million pounds) of nickel concentrate beginning on January 1, 2026.

Talon expects to finish its North Dakota processing plant and open its Tamarack mine before 2026, according to Todd Malan, the company’s chief external affairs officer and head of climate strategy.

But in Minnesota, it hasn’t even started applying for permits yet. It took the proposed PolyMet copper-nickel project near Hoyt Lakes and Babbitt 14 years to receive its permits, and for the past four years, those permits have been stuck in litigation. Copper-nickel mining has never occurred in Minnesota.

Malan has stated the company plans to start applying for permits in February. Since the processing facility and the tailings would be located in North Dakota, he said only the underground mine and rail-loading facility would require permits from Minnesota regulators.

Monday, Talon announced it would stop mineral processing at its Tamarack site, a move that would “significantly reduce land disturbance and the scope of environmental review and permitting” in Minnesota, according to a company statement.

Instead, according to Malan, the company will ship the feedstock by train from Minnesota to North Dakota, where it will also deal with the tailings. Tailings are the bits of rock that remain after the valuable minerals have been extracted. Sulfides, a common pollutant found in tailings, can react with oxygen to produce acid.

Comparatively, this region is drier than Minnesota. And, Malan explained, the tailings will be stored in a manner analogous to other dry-stacked facilities that collect stormwater runoff by being embedded in a cement-like substance.

To paraphrase from one of our community meetings: “We see this as directly responsive to what some of the (Tamarack area) community members have said in our community meetings… Malan remarked, “We think this is a way to address what people were afraid of with regard to non-ferrous metals mining in a water-rich environment.

In contrast, Paula Maccabee, counsel and advocacy director of environmental group WaterLegacy, expressed skepticism toward the company’s plan to reintroduce non-tailing waste rock into the underground mine in Minnesota and raised other concerns regarding the mine’s handling of potentially contaminated water.

According to her, the federal funds are arriving in a chaotic fashion.

As usual, “the politics and the money” are racing ahead of the science and reasonable planning, Maccabee expressed concern. “Therefore, politicians and their use of our own taxpayer resources are committed long before there is a defined project, let alone an environmental analysis of the impact of the project,” the author writes.