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Emmer bill passed narrowly in the House - but will it matter?

Prospects for Senate action appear unlikely

Marshall Helmberger
Posted 12/1/17

REGIONAL— A bill that would restore two federal mineral leases to Chilean-based Antofagasta and its proposed Twin Metals mine, and halt a two-year study of a proposed mineral withdrawal in the Superior National Forest, narrowly passed the U.S. House last Thursday— but in the end it may not matter.

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Emmer bill passed narrowly in the House - but will it matter?

Prospects for Senate action appear unlikely

Posted

REGIONAL— A bill that would restore two federal mineral leases to Chilean-based Antofagasta and its proposed Twin Metals mine, and halt a two-year study of a proposed mineral withdrawal in the Superior National Forest, narrowly passed the U.S. House last Thursday— but in the end it may not matter.

The measure— dubbed the MINER Act or H.R. 3905— was introduced by Republican Rep. Tom Emmer and backed by Eighth District DFL Congressman Rick Nolan. It reverses two decisions made in the final weeks of the Obama administration, but also rewrites the rules that authorize the president to offer future protections to federal lands in Minnesota without congressional approval.

The vote on the measure, which had originally been scheduled for Nov. 29, was pushed back a day when it became clear to House leadership that the bill lacked the votes to pass it. While the Republican and Democratic caucuses often vote along party lines, Emmer’s bill faced more than the usual opposition from fellow Republicans. Pushback from the national Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters, along with opposition from organizations like the League of Conservation Voters (LCV), helped convince 23 Republican House members, including Minnesota Third District Congressman Erik Paulsen, to oppose the measure. In the end, it passed 216-204, a remarkably close vote in a Congress where Republicans hold a commanding majority. “The vote was close and showed the broad, bipartisan opposition to a foreign conglomerate threatening our Boundary Waters with toxic mining,” said Minnesota Fourth District Congresswoman Betty McCollum, one of the bill’s chief opponents.

“This was not a victory for Tom Emmer,” said Becky Rom, co-chair of the Ely-based Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters. “They had to wait for eight members to return in order to pass it,” Rom added. “I think if we had had another week out there, we would have blocked it. In Washington, this bill is as toxic as sulfide-based copper mining.”

In a sign of the significance that conservation groups attached to the Emmer bill, the LCV sent a Nov. 28 letter to House members saying they were considering including the vote for their annual scorecard. While that might not be a concern to many Republican House members, those representing suburban districts are frequently more supportive of environmental protections, and the nature of Emmer’s legislation struck many conservation groups, and even some Republicans, as too extreme.

“Among many harmful provisions, H.R. 3905 would waive normal environmental review and public input under the NEPA and grant two federal mineral leases that were denied by the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management,” wrote LCV president Gene Karpinski, in a letter to members. “And this legislation would add barriers to designate national monuments under the Antiquities Act in Minnesota’s national forests,” noted Karpinski.

“It changes five federal laws, and singles out Minnesota as not being worthy of the protections offered to other states,” notes Rom.

Rep. Emmer, who represents Minnesota’s Sixth District, said the vote was a significant victory for workers in northeastern Minnesota. “The MINER Act reverses the misguided, last minute actions of the Obama Administration to stop any exploration of one of the most valuable precious metal deposits in the world,” he added.

Emmer, in a statement, said passage of the bill “protects more than ten thousand jobs and billions of dollars in revenue and education funding, while leaving an extensive process intact to protect and preserve the environment and our state.” It’s not clear, however, how Emmer calculated his employment claim. Representatives for Antofagasta have put new job creation at the proposed Twin Metals mine at about 650, although that estimate is based on a preliminary mine plan that is not economically feasible at current metal prices.

The two mineral leases that the bill would restore, originally issued in 1966, are critical to plans for the mine. Antofagasta filed suit against the U.S. Department of the Interior earlier this year after the federal Bureau of Land Management opted not to renew the two leases, which expired in 2013. Antofagasta claims that renewal of the leases was mandatory and that the federal bureau abused its discretion in denying an extension.

The two-year study of the proposed mineral withdrawal is already underway and is focused on both the environmental and economic impacts of a sulfide-based mine within the watershed of the 1.1-million acre wilderness. The U.S. Forest Service is leading the study, with cooperation from the BLM.

Senate prospects unlikely

Last week’s narrow victory in the House was probably the end of the line for Emmer’s bill, which appears to have little support in the U.S. Senate. Neither Minnesota senator has indicated an interest in offering companion legislation in the Senate, a reality even supporters of copper-nickel mining in the region concede.

At a legislative forum held in Ely this week, Aurora Mayor-elect David Lislegard, said he believes the two-year study of a proposed withdrawal is likely to move forward. “In reality, I’m going to be honest with you, it is probably not going to get a companion in the Senate,” he said.

What’s more, as a policy bill, the measure would be subject to a potential filibuster, which would require 60 votes to advance the measure to a floor vote. That would require significant Democratic support, which appears unlikely. Emmer’s bill received support from just eight Democrats in the House, including Nolan and Minnesota’s Seventh District Congressman Collin Peterson.

The Timberjay sought official comment for this story from both of Minnesota’s U.S. senators. As of deadline, neither office had responded.

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Minnesota Miners

1964 compromise the environmentalists say and you can use your motors etc in 50,000 acres of the BWCA. 1978 compromise the environmentalists say and we will take your 50,000 acres, but you can mine and log in the Superior National Forest we promise. 2016 -2017 comes along and before Twin Metals even says they are going to mine the environmentalists stop any further progress. No proof just because they think it maybe bad for the environment. This time we have representatives in the govt on our side in this fight. Rep. Tom Emmer and Rep. Rick Nolan not to mention the Western Caucus. This isn't going to be a push over this time around. We are in this for the long haul and aren't going anywhere. This is for saving our communities in NE Minnesota. Tourism does not pay the bills, but good paying mining job will.

Friday, December 1, 2017
Dave

"No proof just because they think it will harm the environment"

I'd reply to Minnesota Miners that you need to do a bit of homework: sulfide mining has never been conducted ANYWHERE in the world without harm to the surrounding environment. That's not thinking, that's just plain fact. So you're willing to sell out to foreign mining companies that will permanently damage the Boundary Waters, who won't have to pay for damage they leave behind, just so a few jobs get created for a few years?

Tuesday, December 5, 2017
Minnesota Miners

Replying to Dave.

Why is it that when anyone goes against your opinion you resort to the whole evil foreign mining companies rhetoric. You are also incorrect on the never has been done anywhere without pollution. Flambeau Mine in Wisconsin and the Eagle Mine in the UP of Michigan plus the Stillwater mine. Guess that kind of knocks a whole in your theory. Notice you didn't respond to the part concerning every time we compromise the environmental groups come along and either take it away or try to later. We are done compromising because there never was any intent of a compromise on the anti-mining side of doing so. Steve Piragis made that clear at the legislative meeting in Ely. When asked if he would support mining in the Superior National Forest if the could prove they could meet or exceed all environmental requirements He said NO. This is why we have taken the route of going to Congress to right what was wrongly done in the Superior National Forest and to the people of NE Minnesota.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017