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BWCAW protection bill advances in House

Legislation by Rep. McCollum would expand the mining buffer zone

Marshall Helmberger
Posted 7/14/22

REGIONAL— Legislation that would significantly expand the mining protection zone around the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness was referred to the full U.S. House by a party linecommittee …

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BWCAW protection bill advances in House

Legislation by Rep. McCollum would expand the mining buffer zone

Posted

REGIONAL— Legislation that would significantly expand the mining protection zone around the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness was referred to the full U.S. House by a party line committee vote on Wednesday. The legislation, authored by Minnesota Fourth District Rep. Betty McCollum, would prohibit sulfide-based mining on federal lands within an area of approximately 225,000 acres of the Superior National Forest, located within the upper reaches of the Rainy River watershed.
The vote, which came after more than seven hours of testimony and debate on the bill as well as a slew of poison pill amendments by Eighth District Congressman Pete Stauber, now sends the measure to a House floor vote to be held sometime later this year.
The votes in the House Committee on Natural Resources were contentious and the debate was heated at times as Republican members of the committee, including Stauber, argued in favor of the jobs that the proposed Twin Metals copper-nickel mine could create were it to move forward and accused the majority Democrats on the committee of engaging in “a war on Minnesota mining” that threatened the country’s access to domestic minerals and eliminated high-paying jobs for rural residents. Stauber said the bill “directly threatens our mining industry, our union workforce, and our communities’ livelihoods.”
Stauber, who has used misleading arguments on this issue in the past, again claimed that McCollum’s bill would enact a “de facto ban on taconite mining,” a claim that is at odds with the geological realities of the area affected by the measure.
McCollum denied the charge. In fact, none of the federal lands included in McCollum’s mining buffer zone expansion includes any known economically significant reserves of taconite. Neither McCollum’s bill nor a proposed 20-year moratorium on new mineral leasing in the same area would impact any existing or new taconite mines that might be proposed in the foreseeable future.
The Timberjay questioned Stauber’s office on the apparent discrepancy between the congressman’s rhetoric and the known geology of the area subject to the bill, but Stauber’s office did not respond.
Democrats on the panel, meanwhile, argued that the failed record of sulfide-based mining across the country, combined with the water-rich geology of northeastern Minnesota, all but guaranteed that the Twin Metals mine would pollute downstream waters. That includes portions of the 1.1 million-acre BWCAW, which is well-known to hold some of the nation’s purest surface waters and has helped generate a sizable local economy based on outdoor recreation. Opponents of the Twin Metals mine, many of whom own and operate local businesses that cater to wilderness visitors, have argued that their livelihoods are threatened by the prospect of a mining operation located upstream of the wilderness.
Committee chair Democrat Rep. Raul Grijalva of New Mexico argued that the legislation was about balancing values and interests.
“This isn’t about miners. It’s about a mining industry that has an inordinate amount of power,” he said. He added that, too often, the interests of the mining industry win out over broader national concerns, like environmental protection, but that should not be allowed to happen when it comes to the Boundary Waters.
The U.S. Forest Service has sought a 20-year mineral leasing moratorium on the same lands, citing concerns about the potential environmental impacts to the BWCAW. The Biden administration recently cancelled two expired mineral leases in the same area, both of which were held most recently by Twin Metals, which had proposed to construct an underground copper-nickel mine and processing facility about eight miles south of Ely. That project is now on hold pending the outcome of a legal challenge to the Biden administration’s decision on the leases.
McCollum said the Forest Service’s concerns about the project were documented in a two-year study that the agency was close to completing when it was halted by the Trump administration. She held aloft a copy of the study, which was fully redacted by the administration before its release.
“The Trump administration made a craven political decision to mine at any cost,” she said.

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  • snowshoe2

    Awesome and as time goes by and the population of this country doubles in around 35 years it is a must to protect. They don't make areas like this anymore.

    Thursday, July 14 Report this