Nonprofit, nonpartisan journalism. Supported by readers.

Community Voices features opinion pieces from a wide variety of authors and perspectives. (Submission Guidelines)

End to mining study is a major blow to the future of the BWCA and Minnesota

Adam Fetcher: "The decision to reopen the possibility of copper mining on the edge of the Boundary Waters will hurt significantly more people than it will help, particularly in northeastern Minnesota."

On Sept. 6, President Donald Trump’s Department of Agriculture killed a comprehensive study about the potential impacts of copper mining in the watershed of the Boundary Waters. This type of mining has never existed in Minnesota and presents a far greater risk of toxic pollution than our traditional taconite mining. The study in question was meant to inform nonpartisan federal land managers about whether copper mining should take place right next to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA), a sensitive wilderness home to some of the world’s cleanest water and best outdoor recreation opportunities.

We should be clear about what this decision says about Trump and what it means for Minnesota.

Adam Fetcher
Adam Fetcher
By ending the study, the Trump administration plainly showed Trump does not care about creating a successful future for the vast majority of Minnesotans. By every measure, the decision to reopen the possibility of copper mining on the edge of the Boundary Waters will hurt significantly more people than it will help, particularly in northeastern Minnesota.

Take jobs, for instance. The figures are stark: Trump’s choice will result in 1,500 to 4,600 fewer jobs and $100 million to $900 million less family income for Arrowhead communities, according to an independent study that analyzed dozens of long-term economic scenarios with and without copper mining on the edge of the Boundary Waters.

Much has been made about the economic promise of copper mining in Minnesota, but those arguments ignore both the boom-and-bust nature of mining and the cost it would inflict on the region’s fastest-growing industries, which all depend on a healthy wilderness. Since taconite mining declined in the early 1980s, the Arrowhead has steadily built a stable and diverse economy in which tourism and recreation, small businesses, health care, manufacturing, construction, services, forest products and, yes, taconite mining can coexist peacefully.

Trump’s decision trades all that to benefit a single industry. Unless you work in mining, nobody wants to live next to a polluted wilderness, let alone spend a vacation there.

What about local property values? Copper mining near the Boundary Waters would cause up to $509 million in lost property value if and when America’s most toxic industry comes to town. This would  spawn reductions in local property tax revenue throughout the region, depleting quality of life across the board.

Of course, the Chilean mining executives who own Twin Metals Minnesota don’t care; they’re just renters. Public land owners – you and I – will foot the bill when they inevitably make a mess.

How about our health? Copper mining would expose our state’s air and water to six of the 10 toxins that pose the greatest concern to human health, according to the World Health Organization. These toxins (mercury, lead, arsenic, particulate air pollution, asbestos, and cadmium) are known to cause cancer, lung and heart disease, and neurodevelopmental diseases like autism and dyslexia – a disturbing truth that led Minnesota’s medical community to plead with Trump to protect the region.

Who might escape these consequences? The rich executives half a world away who stand to profit.

Most Minnesotans very clearly understand that copper mining on the edge of America’s most popular wilderness is a terrible deal for our state. In a recent poll, 70 percent of Minnesota voters representing large contingents from both parties said they firmly oppose the idea – an 11 percent increase since Trump was elected.

The families on the Iron Range who have long relied on taconite mining jobs are right to demand more economic opportunity as their industry becomes increasingly automated and Minnesota iron is passed over for cheaper global alternatives. They deserve the urgent attention of our elected leaders. But copper mining less than a mile from America’s most popular wilderness area is simply not the right solution if we have the long-term interests of most Minnesotans in mind.

Sadly, Trump does not. He doesn’t care about us. Antofagasta’s owners and top brass have pulled out all the stops to influence this administration, including renting a lavish mansion to Trump’s daughter and son-in-law. They were handed a big reward, at our expense.

There’s just one thing foreign executives can’t do: vote.

This November, Minnesotans of both parties should support candidates who will fight to protect our most valuable natural resource – not sell it out.

Adam Fetcher is board co-chair for Northeastern Minnesotans for Wilderness, lead organization in the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters. He served as press secretary for the U.S. Department of the Interior during the Obama administration.


If you’re interested in joining the discussion, add your voice to the Comment section below — or consider writing a letter or a longer-form Community Voices commentary. (For more information about Community Voices, see our Submission Guidelines.)

Comments (10)

  1. Submitted by Ginger Kulka on 09/24/2018 - 12:21 pm.

    Am I correct in recalling that Senator Tina Smith supports this type of mining and that she holds a lot of stock in Twin Metals Mining? I would never vote for her Republican opponent but if true, I don’t know how I can support her.

  2. Submitted by Joe Musich on 09/24/2018 - 01:56 pm.

    I seriously thought this protection of health and land issue would be delt with once and for all in my lifetime. So once again I am reminded by the Star Wars Force Awakens when the youngsters in the racing stables look to the stars for hope for the future. All we have left is metaphor as we now live in world where facts do not matter – a world fueled by lies and power. I wish it weren’t so.

  3. Submitted by Joe Smith on 09/25/2018 - 07:12 am.

    Thank goodness. Studies, law suits and delay tactics can only last so long (in this case 2 decades). If Polymet passes the permitting process, they get permitted and start mining. That is the law.
    These elements have been exposed to each other and water for a billion years. The copper is not in a sealed vault ready to explode if exposed to water. In the course of open pit mining for ore, copper pockets have been dug up and the earth kept turning.

    • Submitted by Eric House on 09/26/2018 - 11:33 am.

      Part of passing the permitting process is doing an environmental study. if all this is so wonderful, and safe, and rainbows and kittens, why does the company want to skip this step? I hear Polymet use words like ‘responsible’, but their time and money is going towards undermining environmental review, instead of complying with the requirement. it makes me wonder what they are trying to hide.

      • Submitted by Mike Cole on 09/28/2018 - 03:56 pm.

        Twin Metals has not submitted a mine plan so at this point the actual permitting process hasn’t even started. Once the process starts a full EIS will be completed just like PolyMet has done. Nobody has skipped a step.

  4. Submitted by Elanne Palcich on 09/25/2018 - 10:46 am.

    The permitting of PolyMet stands to open the door for a sulfide mining district that would extend from PolyMet to Teck Resources’ deposits to Twin Metals. This mining would change the ecology and character of the entire region, and leave behind a trail of pollution for centuries (PolyMet EIS–water treatment needed for at least 500 years). The politicians who really cared about this were all defeated in the primary. Money and power will be the big winners.

  5. Submitted by Barbara Lofquist on 09/25/2018 - 12:06 pm.

    We Support Mining.
    We are not tourists.
    We live here.
    Remember people, if it’s not grown, it is mined! Everything.

    • Submitted by Joe Smith on 09/25/2018 - 12:22 pm.

      Amen Barbara amen. Been up here since the 50’s and have heard Mining is ruining the environment for past 60 years.

  6. Submitted by Josh Belleville on 09/25/2018 - 09:34 pm.

    The Harvard study uses very rosy estimates of income and employment in “tourism” jobs, and the scare tactic of declining property values in the worst case case event of a spill, to generate a ‘positive’ result of mining withdrawal.

    A major blow to Minnesota would be not responsibly using the resources to better the income of NE MN, and to continue relying on part time jobs in an attempt to generate the income levels S. MN visitors have, but do not want their NE MN playground servants to achieve.

  7. Submitted by Nancy McReady on 09/26/2018 - 11:22 am.

    According to the Federal Register… Publication of this notice temporarily segregates the lands for up to 2 years from the United States mineral and geothermal leasing laws while the withdrawal application is being processed. Unless the application is denied or canceled or the withdrawal is approved prior to that date.

Leave a Reply