As the nation still awaits the final vote tally, and social media, talking heads and newspaper columnists scramble to read the tea leaves and what the election means, one thing is certain: Minnesotans want leaders to fight for the environment.
In recent years, major environmental controversies — notably the dangers from two proposed copper-sulfide mines, PolyMet and Twin Metals — have galvanized Minnesotans. Nearly 70% of the 54 candidates Friends of the Boundary Waters Action Network endorsed because of their unwavering support for the Boundary Waters and clean water won.
This is a winning issue.
The environmental movement has always been strong in Minnesota, but electorally, the bellwether really came in the August DFL primaries, when Jen McEwen, who was unabashedly pro-clean water and opposed both the PolyMet and Twin Metals projects — beat out a staunch supporter of the copper-sulfide mining industry, Erik Simonson.
While Republicans have largely avoided grappling with environmental issues, the DFL has faced internal divisions between those who support and those who oppose copper-sulfide mining. This has led many statewide politicians to waffle on the issue. Indeed, it’s an issue many would rather avoid.
That has changed.
Following McEwen’s primary win, the DFL Central Committee adopted a resolution, calling for a moratorium on sulfide mining. This stance reflected the will of the majority of Minnesotans. Polling by Minnesota Public Radio and the Star Tribune show that 60% of all Minnesotans, and 57% of northern Minnesotans, and 80% of DFLers oppose copper-sulfide mining near the BWCA.
There were those within the DFL who believed adopting such a strong stance was a political liability. Those fears ought to be put to rest. This election confirms that protecting the Boundary Waters from copper-sulfide mining is a winning issue.
It wasn’t just McEwen’s victory.
In the run-up to November, Friends of the Boundary Waters Action Network screened and interviewed numerous candidates for state office, ultimately endorsing 54 candidates who were unabashedly pro-clean water, pro-Boundary Waters and willing to take a strong stance on the issue. Of those 54 endorsements, 37 won their races.
What’s more, of the 10 candidates we signaled out as key and tight races, eight won.
Voters have shown they are deeply concerned about the future of the Boundary Waters and about protecting our clean water from the threat of copper-sulfide mining.
They have rejected the political bombast and limited economic vision tied to opening these toxic mines. They have rejected the tired falsehoods and hollow promises of foreign mining conglomerates with track records of environmental degradation and labor abuse.
For over a decade, there has been no significant environmental initiative passed in Minnesota since voters passed the Clean Water, Land & Legacy Amendment in 2008. At a time when clean, fresh water is becoming a global scarcity, and after four years of the Trump administration waging an all-out assault on public lands and wild spaces, Minnesotans are hungry for action.
They are ready for those they elected to pass legislation that protects our natural heritage, embraces that jewel of wilderness, the Boundary Waters, and provides legal protection against the dangers of copper-sulfide mining.
Chris Knopf is the executive director of Friends of the Boundary Waters Action Network, the political wing of the nonprofit Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness.
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