WASHINGTON — Saying the steps the Biden administration took to bar mining in the Superior National Forest are not permanent, Rep. Betty McCollum on Tuesday reintroduced a bill that would offer permanent protections.
“Last week’s historic action by Secretary Deb Haaland to officially withdraw more than 225,000 acres of federal lands and waters from mineral leasing is huge and welcome news, ensuring the pristine Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCA) will remain intact and protected for 20 years,” McCollum said in a statement. “However, more work remains – these protections must be made permanent.”
By withdrawing more than 225,000 acres of the Superior National Forest from sulfide mining, the Biden administration upended plans by Twin Metals Minnesota to establish a new copper, cobalt and nickel mine in the forest, which is part of the Rainy River Watershed that feeds the Boundary Waters’ 1.1 million acres of interconnected lands and streams.
“Some places are simply too precious to mine,” McCollum, D-4th District, said.
Haaland has the authority to impose the mining moratorium in the Superior National Forest for a maximum of 20 years, subject to renewal. Only Congress can legislate a permanent withdrawal.
McCollum said “without permanent protection, this special place (the BWCA) is subject to political interference,” which means a subsequent administration could lift the moratorium.
But McCollum’s legislation faces an uphill climb in the new, GOP-led House, where Rep. Pete Stauber, R-8th District, has been a main opponent of her bill and is now the chairman of a House panel with jurisdiction over mining issues. Stauber has also been sharply critical of the newly imposed mining moratorium, trolling President Biden – who has promoted the use of electric vehicles – in a tweet on Tuesday.
“Minnesota could have supplied the minerals for EV batteries, but unfortunately your Administration prefers minerals mined by child slaves at Chinese owned mines in the Congo,” Stauber tweeted.
McColllum tried to win House approval of her legislation in the last Congress, which was controlled by Democrats, but time ran out.
Taconite is mined in the Superior National Forest and the moratorium will not impact on those operations. But environmentalists argued that mining for minerals like copper, cobalt and nickel in the forest – which require deep extraction in an underground mine – would produce tailings that can be dangerous sources of toxic chemicals that would pollute the Rainy River Watershed, and the Boundary Waters.
The U.S. Forest Service agreed that sulfite mining in the Superior National Forest posed a risk to the BWCA.
The Forest Service also determined more than 350 species that depend on the ecosystem of the Superior National Forest and Boundary Waters would also be at risk. And it said the area withdrawn from mining includes all the land ceded to Lake Superior Tribes in 1854 by the federal government, so the moratorium is need to protect the treaty rights of the Bois Forte, Fond du Lac and Grand Portage bands to hunt, fish and gather wild rice in the area. It recommended the Interior Department issue the moratorium.
Twin Metals vows its plans for a new mine are safe and says the new metals that would be extracted are needed to boost clean technologies aimed at fighting climate change.