U.S. House OKs bills paving way for mining near the Boundary Waters Wilderness

In the (very dry) summer of 1988 I did an extended Outward Bound trip in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, which for a variety of reasons, changed my life forever.

According to Minnesota Public Radio:

The U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill Thursday to reopen Superior National Forest land near the Boundary Waters [Wilderness] to mineral exploration and, potentially, to new copper-nickel mines on the doorstep of one of the nation’s most popular wilderness areas.

The bill, introduced by Minnesota Republican Rep. Tom Emmer, would allow a company called Twin Metals to continue developing a potential copper-nickel mine near Ely, Minn., on the edge of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

The bill would restore the company’s mineral leases — which the federal government declined to renew at the end of President Barack Obama’s administration — and stop a two-year study into the effects of mining within the watershed that flows into the Boundary Waters [Wilderness]. That process that could lead to a 20-year ban on mining in the area.

When enduring much longer and drier portages in the Boundary Waters Canoe Areas Wilderness back in 1988 there’s no way my 16 year old self could’ve imaged that year’s later the U.S. Congress would be circumventing our nation’s bedrock environmental laws to make it easier for a foreign company (with a terrible history of environmental violations) to build dangerous sulfide-ore copper mines on the edge of the Boundary Waters Wilderness…but there you have it.

Also this week, the U.S. House passed H.R. 3115, a bill that would require that 6,650 acres of the Superior National Forest be traded to PolyMet Mining for the construction of an open-pit copper-nickel (sulfide) mine. Thousands of acres of irreplaceable wetlands at the headwaters of Lake Superior were valued for exchange at $550 per acre, five times less than what other mining companies have paid. There are currently four lawsuits pending against the land exchange. H.R. 3115 would essentially declare these lawsuits null and void and undermine the Endangered Species Act to ram through the land exchange, bringing PolyMet’s open-pit copper-nickel (sulfide) mine a few scary steps closer to reality.

These anti-Boundary Waters Wilderness bill are just a drop in the bucket. Essentially, unless Congressional dysfunction saves the day, America’s public lands, wildlife and Wilderness legacy will be laid to waste in the next couple of weeks. There are literally too many terrible bills pending in Congress, and certainly being hatched behind closed doors as we speak, to even keep track of them all.

One Comment

  1. As with most of the public land-related issues this blog addresses, what seems so egregious on the surface is actually a conundrum in the details. While the possibility of sulfide ore mining is a hotly debated topic within the state of Minnesota (and elsewhere), the resolution of this “wicked problem” does not have a clear path. The legislative proposals attempt, albeit unsatisfactorily, to resolve this problem. I fear that the eventual outcome is unlikely to be persuaded if the current political approach continues as is.

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