Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

Minnesota delegation splits on amendment to defund mining withdrawal study

Measure added to House omnibus spending bill late Wednesday

Marshall Helmberger
Posted 9/8/17

REGIONAL— Members of the state’s Congressional delegation split sharply on an amendment backed by Reps. Rick Nolan and Tom Emmer that would eliminate funding for the study of a proposed …

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Minnesota delegation splits on amendment to defund mining withdrawal study

Measure added to House omnibus spending bill late Wednesday

Posted

REGIONAL— Members of the state’s Congressional delegation split sharply on an amendment backed by Reps. Rick Nolan and Tom Emmer that would eliminate funding for the study of a proposed withdrawal of mineral leasing on about 234,000 acres of the Superior National Forest within the Boundary Waters watershed. The measure was approved on a voice vote and will be included in the House version of the Interior and Environment Appropriations portion of a massive omnibus spending bill. The measure would still need approval in the Senate and the signature of President Trump to become law, but its addition within a much larger bill increases the chance that the amendment could eventually become law.

It’s unclear, however, if the withdrawal of funding for the study would end the effort, or simply delay it. The U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management announced the study last January and have already held scoping meetings for an environmental impact statement that federal officials expect will take at least two years to complete. Federal officials announced the study after declining to renew two federal mineral leases that are critical to the proposed Twin Metals copper-nickel mine near Ely.

Meanwhile, both Nolan and Emmer have been pushing the Trump administration to restore the cancelled mineral leases, but Trump Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue indicated earlier this year that he wants to see the results of the study before making a decision on the leases.

In introducing the measure, the Republican Emmer said the measure was critical to creating jobs in the state. “If this ban were to take effect, it would have a devastating impact on the economy of my State, as well as our Nation as a whole,” said Emmer during testimony in the House. “Through this amendment, we have a real opportunity to get the Federal Government out of the way so this land can remain available for future development to bring much-needed jobs and revenue to the great State of Minnesota,” Emmer added. “The National Mining Association, Mining Minnesota, and the Congressional Western Caucus are in favor of the amendment, and it could not be more in line with the current administration’s priorities to create jobs and reinvigorate the American economy.”

But Rep. Erik Paulsen, Republican from Minnesota’s Third District, joined Fourth District Rep. Betty McCollum in opposition. While Paulsen said he supported the copper-nickel mine proposed by PolyMet, he was concerned about the potential impacts of the Twin Metals project to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area. “Earlier this year, the Trump administration said it would allow the current environmental review process to proceed to completion,” said Paulsen. “I support that decision, and I oppose this amendment’s effort to defund an ongoing environmental review to protect one of Minnesota’s natural treasures. Indeed, it’s one of our country’s most spectacular wilderness areas.”

Both McCollum and Paulsen argued that it makes little sense to discontinue a study that is ongoing. “The public process that is underway after hundreds of thousands of people weighed in with their comments, should not be ignored and tossed aside,” said Paulsen. “And, a science-based assessment of the best management practices of this sensitive ecosystem should be adhered to. We owe it to future generations to understand the impact copper-nickel mining poses to Minnesota’s most precious water and land before we put it at risk.”

Opponents of the Twin Metals project reacted with alarm to passage of the measure. “This amendment is an example of backroom politics at its worst,” said Becky Rom, national campaign chair for the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters. “Instead of following the established process and allowing citizens and scientists to decide the future of the Boundary Waters Wilderness, this amendment uses closed-door tactics to undermine an environmental review process that Minnesotans overwhelmingly support.”

Rom argues that the Nolan/Emmer amendment runs counter to the views of most Minnesotans, who support the study by a wide margin. “Polls show that 79 percent of Minnesotans support the ongoing environmental review to determine the risks posed by sulfide-ore copper mining, and Minnesotans oppose sulfide-ore copper mining near the Boundary Waters by more than two to one,” said Rom.

The ongoing environmental review is designed to study the environmental, economic and social impacts of opening public lands in the Boundary Waters watershed to sulfide-ore copper mining.

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