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Study of mining near Boundary Waters cut from federal spending bill

The removal of the language is another obstacle out of the way for Twin Metals Minnesota, which is proposing to open a copper-nickel mining project just outside of the BWCA.

BWCA sunset
In 2017, The Trump administration canceled a comprehensive study on copper-nickel mining near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area.

Language that would have reinstated a federal study on copper-nickel mining near the Boundary Waters has been cut from a federal spending bill as Democrats and Republican leaders rush to finalize fiscal year 2020 funding before the close of the year.

In 2017, the Trump administration canceled a comprehensive study on copper-nickel mining near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area. If the study had been completed, and mining were found to be unsafe for the region, it would have led to a 20-year moratorium on copper-nickel mining in the region. The removal of the language is another obstacle out of the way for Twin Metals Minnesota, which is proposing to open a copper-nickel mining project just outside of the BWCA.

For environmental advocates, there was a brief glimmer of hope: As the Appropriations Subcommittee Chair for Interior-Appropriations, Rep. Betty McCollum of St. Paul included language to reinstate the study in the 2020 Interior-Environment Appropriations Bill. But that effort came to a close on Monday, when it became clear that the language had been removed from the bill, as one of the compromise measures between Republicans and Democrats to reach an agreement.

“I am disturbed that the White House intervened in negotiations and as a result, the agreement does not include the National Academy of Sciences study to examine the harmful impacts of sulfide-ore mining in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness,” McCollum said in a statement. “That said, the Department of Agriculture and the Department of the Interior will still have to address the question of whether mining, especially copper-sulfide ore mining, is appropriate on National Forest System lands in the Rainy River Watershed.”

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Rep. Pete Stauber, who represents the district that contains the Boundary Waters, claimed credit for the language’s removal.

“In northern Minnesota, mining is a way of life. Unfortunately, the livelihoods of my constituents and the needs of this nation were completely disregarded as an attempt was made to include anti-mining language in the Interior appropriations package,” Stauber said in a statement.

“Fortunately, with the help of the White House, Republican leadership and Congressman [Tom] Emmer, we were able to prevent this harmful provision from reaching the House Floor.”

While the study was canceled in 2017, the U.S. Departments of Agriculture and the Interior have still denied requests from members of Congress to release any preliminary documents or findings from the time the study was active.

“This confirms the copper-sulfide mining industry, and their allies in the Trump administration and Congress, have a decidedly anti-science agenda,” said Chris Knopf, executive director of the Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness. “They are pushing for a rubber stamp policy for these mines, one that ignores science and does not include a factual environmental assessment.”

According to filings, Twin Metals has spent $330,000 this year lobbying the U.S. Senate, House of Representatives, the Office of the President, the National Economic Council, the Department of the Interior, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture on “Mining issues.” The filings are not required to list what that specifically entails or which members they lobbied.

Democratic presidential candidates from Pete Buttigieg to Bernie Sanders have weighed in on mining in the region, all suggesting that copper-nickel mining near the region should be banned. (Notably absent from the list: Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who is also running for president. Both Klobuchar and Sen. Tina Smith were supportive of the amendment to continue the study.)

Votes on the spending bills are expected in the House today, and the Republican-led Senate is expected to vote on the bills before midnight Friday, when government funding will expire.