REGIONAL — Legislation that would dramatically expand the Mining Protection Zone around the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness went through the entire U.S. House in a Party Line Committee vote on Wednesday. The legislation, drafted by Betty McCollum, Representative for Minnesota’s Fourth District, would ban sulfide mining on federal lands in an area of approximately 225,000 acres of the Superior National Forest, located in the upper basin. slope of Rainy River.
The vote, which came after more than seven hours of testimony and debate on the bill as well as a slew of poison pill amendments by Eighth District Congressman Pete Stauber, now sends the measure to a vote in the House to be held later this year.
Votes in the House Committee on Natural Resources have been contentious and the debate has been heated at times as Republican members of the committee, including Stauber, have argued for the jobs that the proposed copper-nickel mine by Twin Metals could create if it went ahead. and accused the committee’s majority Democrats of engaging in “a war on Minnesota mining” that threatened the country’s access to national minerals and eliminated good-paying jobs for rural residents. Stauber said the bill “directly threatens our mining industry, our union workforce and the livelihoods of our communities.”
Stauber, who has used misleading arguments on this issue in the past, again asserted that McCollum’s bill would enact a “de facto ban on taconite mining”, a claim that is at odds with the facts. of the area affected by the measure.
McCollum denied the charge. In fact, none of the federal lands included in the McCollum Mining Buffer Expansion include known taconite reserves of economic significance. Neither McCollum’s bill nor a proposed 20-year moratorium on new mining claims in the same area would affect existing or new taconite mines that may be proposed for the foreseeable future.
The Timberjay questioned Stauber’s office about the apparent discrepancy between the congressman’s rhetoric and the known geology of the area subject to the bill, but Stauber’s office did not respond.
Democrats on the panel, meanwhile, argued that the failure of sulfide mining across the country, combined with the water-rich geology of northeast Minnesota, virtually guaranteed that the Twin Mine Metals would pollute the waters downstream. This includes portions of the 1.1 million acre BWCAW, which is well known for containing some of the purest surface waters in the country and has helped generate a significant local economy based on outdoor recreation. Opponents of the Twin Metals mine, many of whom own and operate local businesses that cater to wilderness visitors, have argued that their livelihoods are threatened by the prospect of mining located upstream of the mine. wild nature.
The chairman of the committee, Democratic Representative Raul Grijalva of New Mexico, argued that the legislation was intended to balance values and interests.
“It’s not about minors. This is a mining industry that has outsized power,” he said. He added that too often the interests of the mining industry trump broader national concerns, such as environmental protection, but that shouldn’t happen when it comes to boundary waters.
The US Forest Service has requested a 20-year moratorium on mining leases on the same lands, citing concerns about potential environmental impacts on the BWCAW. The Biden administration recently canceled two expired mining leases in the same area, both held more recently by Twin Metals, which had proposed to build an underground copper-nickel mine and processing facility about 13 km south of Eli. That project is now on hold pending the outcome of a legal challenge to the Biden administration’s decision on the leases.
McCollum said the Forest Service’s concerns about the project were documented in a two-year study the agency was about to complete when it was halted by the Trump administration. She held aloft a copy of the study, which was fully redacted by the administration before publication.
“The Trump administration has made the cowardly political decision to mine at all costs,” she said.