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Study of mining near Boundary Waters cut from federal spending bill

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.”


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.

Comments (16)

  1. Submitted by Eric House on 12/17/2019 - 01:27 pm.

    Only in Republican land is a study into safety and long term impacts considered Anti- mining. Perhaps Reps Stauber and Emmer should consider asking why Polymet and Twin Metals would rather waste time and money fighting against any sort of independent review, rather than just going ahead and getting it over with. After all, if their proposals are awesoe as they claim, then the review should be easy to pass.

  2. Submitted by joe smith on 12/17/2019 - 01:40 pm.

    Been enough studies over the past 2 decades… Enough studies, start mining!

    • Submitted by Matt Haas on 12/18/2019 - 08:49 am.

      Ah, I see the company line has changed Mr. Smith. What happened to “If these companies can meet the requirements we should mine”? Evidently, the new one is “Requirements? What requirements, everything is fine, dig baby dig!” (Of course everyone knew it was always the latter, but hey at least mining proponents are seemingly willing to own up to it now, desperation has a way of doing that I guess)

      • Submitted by joe smith on 12/18/2019 - 10:14 am.

        They have set requirements to get permits, adding new studies is the lefties attempt to delay. There have been 2 decades worth of studies. Pass the current permitting process and start min8ng. Believe me, nothing has changed in my thinking.

        • Submitted by Matt Haas on 12/18/2019 - 11:12 am.

          See the second part of my statement above. Trust me, I know there is nothing that would convince you to withdraw support, the Range itself could die, and there are those that would be cheering it on. Why would you care about the BWCA, that you never believed was legitimate in the first place.

          • Submitted by ian wade on 12/18/2019 - 12:38 pm.

            Joe will just stay in Florida full time instead of coming back for the summer. No big thing.

            • Submitted by joe smith on 12/18/2019 - 07:15 pm.

              Ian, you should come up to th3 Range and visit. You will find many diverse people from different backgrounds and countries. You will find folks like me that have their parents and grandparents, who built this area into what it is, buried here. One thing you won’t find is pompous presumptuous folks who tell others where to live.

              • Submitted by Matt Haas on 12/19/2019 - 12:34 pm.

                No, they just tell them where they SHOULDN’T travel. Talk about pompous, guess what Joe, LOT’S of small town folk (including me) were humble enough to recognize the areas we came from are dying, and that nothing we could do would save them. WE chose to move elsewhere, to better our own prospects, INSTEAD of demanding that everyone else allow us to destroy shared resources to allow us the privilege of living exactly where we choose.

                • Submitted by joe smith on 12/20/2019 - 09:06 am.

                  Travel? You can travel anywhere you like, nobody is stopping that. Mining up here on the Range accounts for less that 1/2 of 1 percent of land up here. So plenty of room to travel. Not sure you have been to N. Minnesota but the mining industry is still employing hundreds of folks up here.

                  So travel away and think twice about being presumptuous as to telling folks where to live.

              • Submitted by ian wade on 12/19/2019 - 05:58 pm.

                Actually, Joe, I spend a lot of time in the BWCA and as Matt alluded, I also come from a small town in the rust belt. Now, I could have stayed there like some of my friends, worked a factory job until those were boarded up and then complain that the world was leaving me behind. Instead, I finished my education, packed up my car, and with a couple of hundred bucks in my pocket, moved to the metro area (where the opportunities are) and forged a very nice career and life with my family.
                As for pompous, it seems there are a lot of people who love to tell others what they can and can’t do. The Range is no exception to this.

                • Submitted by joe smith on 12/20/2019 - 06:37 pm.

                  Moving to a big city doesn’t make you special. Telling folks where to live makes you sound arrogant. Live where you want and believe what you want. I believe in using our natural resources, you may not.

                  • Submitted by ian wade on 12/20/2019 - 11:48 pm.

                    I never claimed to be special. To me, special is the expectation of state or federal government to steamroll environmental concerns so one can live in areas that has no other means of making a living.
                    There’s some real arrogance for you.

  3. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 12/17/2019 - 07:00 pm.

    Residents of the area – and their descendants – would do well to keep the names Stauber and Emmer with their important papers, the better to sue, harass, and otherwise make the nonpolitical life of their “representatives” less pleasant than they might otherwise be. They have certainly neither protected nor enriched the lives of their constituents, as a few years of sulfide mining will amply demonstrate, just as it has elsewhere in the world.

  4. Submitted by William Hunter Duncan on 12/18/2019 - 08:22 am.

    This issue for me points to a core lie in Trumpism…

    Making America Great Again…letting a foreign corporation plunder, pollute and run.

    (With the complicity of most of Minnesota’s elite Democrats.)

    Bow down to your new foreign lords, Patriots.

  5. Submitted by Joe Musich on 12/18/2019 - 07:40 pm.

    Legal recourse does not seem to be working. Another example where all the facts do not seem to matter, including the myth about having a democracy…yea you can one if you pay for it….

  6. Submitted by Dennis Leclaire on 12/19/2019 - 01:16 pm.

    It’s just sad that the water will be polluted by mining in the area. It’s going to happen. It’s all about big business and money. Unless you have mining experience, you aren’t going to get hired by these companies. The jobs will go to people from outside the local area, experts that will leave with their wages when the mines close. I contemplated buying land near the BWCA, but no more. Bad long term investment. Property values are going to plummet once the contaminates are found in the waters.

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