REGIONAL— New legislation introduced in Washington would reinstate mineral leases for a proposed mine near Ely and weaken the authority of the president to protect federal lands in …
REGIONAL— New legislation introduced in Washington would reinstate mineral leases for a proposed mine near Ely and weaken the authority of the president to protect federal lands in Minnesota.
The legislation, introduced July 25 by Republican Sixth District Rep. Tom Emmer, would reverse a decision announced by the Obama administration last December , which denied renewal of two mineral leases critical to a plan by Twin Metals to open a copper-nickel mine southeast of Ely. The bill would also end an ongoing study of a proposed 20-year withdrawal of 234,000 acres of federal land within the Superior National Forest from the federal minerals leasing program.
Emmer, who spoke to the House Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources last week, called the Obama administration decisions “politically-motivated and short-sighted,” and said his legislation provides an opportunity to reverse those rulings. “We are simply recognizing the right of Minnesotans to exercise their mineral rights,” said Emmer.
Emmer’s bill, if approved, would effectively transfer the federal mineral rights in perpetuity to Chilean mining giant Antofagasta, which controls the Twin Metals project. It would also require Congressional approval for a president to withdraw federal mineral rights in Minnesota.
A background document provided by House Republicans notes that Twin Metals has spent $400 million developing its mine proposal. Its earlier parent company, Duluth Metals, published a pre-feasibility study that outlined a $2.9 billion plan for a vast mining operation, much of it underground. But the project’s location, in the Rainy River watershed, which flows into the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, has sparked considerable opposition, including from Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton and former Vice President Walter Mondale. During comments to the House committee last week, Emmer suggested that no such mine proposal exists. “There is no current project proposal to mine within the Superior National Forest or the Rainy River watershed,” he said. “None.”
A spokesperson for Eighth District Congressman Rick Nolan, who represents the region in question, said Nolan is still reviewing Emmer’s bill and has yet to take a position. “While he is going to reserve final judgment on the legislation until the bill text is finalized, he believes it seems to clarify the legislative intent and history surrounding the several laws establishing the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness,” stated Nolan press secretary Samantha Bisogno.
Sen. Klobuchar’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
Meanwhile, critics of Twin Metals mine proposal blasted Emmer’s legislation. “This bill is an attack on the Boundary Waters Wilderness and the sustainable wilderness-based economy that depends on it,” said Becky Rom, national campaign chair for the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters. “Instead of following the established process and allowing citizens and scientists to decide the future of the Boundary Waters Wilderness, this bill allows out-state politicians and foreign mining interests to dictate the path forward for our state’s most valuable natural resource. This bill would remove the opportunity for public input and give a foreign mining conglomerate the green light to destroy America’s most visited wilderness area.”
Emmer sees it differently, telling members of Congress that his bill would not allow mining within the Boundary Waters or within existing state and federal mining buffer zones. “ This would simply allow for research and exploration to proceed,” he said.