Legislation making mining easier in northern Minnesota moves forward in Congress

Photo courtesy U.S. Architect of the Capitol

Two bills that seek to help proposed copper-nickel mines in northeast Minnesota are in action in Washington, D.C. this week.

Yesterday, legislation passed the House of Representatives to expedite a controversial land exchange with PolyMet, which is working on a mine near Hoyt Lakes, in the headwaters of the St. Louis River. Today, the chamber is consider legislation to reverse protections put in place for the Boundary Waters by the Obama administration late last year.

Pushing PolyMet land transfer

Rep. Rick Nolan

HR 3115 would force the Forest Service to move forward with an exchange that has been tied up in lawsuits, trading about 6,600 acres of federal land to the mining company for other lands around northern Minnesota, as well as cash.

It was sponsored by Rep. Rick Nolan, the Democrat who represents the region in Congress. A majority of members in his own party voted against the bill, and it passed 309-99 on a roll call vote.

In remarks on the House floor, St. Paul Democrat Betty McCollum, who previously introduced legislation to make the Boundary Waters watershed off-limits to mining, criticized the effort. She said it would bypass the lawsuits

“H.R. 3115 undermines legal due process, environmental safeguards, and the treaty rights of our Native American brothers and sisters,” she said.

After the legislation passed, Nolan said in a statement, “The simple fact is, this bill is an all-around good deal for jobs, for the public, and for the environment. I am proud to have supported it and look forward to its progress in the Senate.”

There is currently no Senate version of the legislation, leaving its future in question. Even if it is signed into law, the company would still have to get numerous state and federal permits, including for the destruction of wetlands at the mine site.

Putting Twin Metals back on track

Rep. Tom Emmer

Today, another bill is being debated in the House that would restore mining rights to Twin Metals, the company seeking to create a massive underground mine near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

HR 3905 is authored by Rep. Tom Emmer, a Republican from the St. Cloud Area. It would reinstate mineral leases that were denied by the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management last year due to risks posed to the wilderness. It would also block an effort to withdraw federal lands in the Boundary Waters watershed from mining for 20 years.

National paddlesports organization the American Canoe Association announced its opposition to the legislation.

“The bill is another direct attack on one of our nation’s bedrock conservation laws, exposes one of our nation’s most treasured paddling resources, the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, to the potential effects of mining pollution, and flatly ignores the overwhelming public support for protecting unique and sensitive federal lands and ocean areas through national monument designations,” Brett Mayer, the group’s Public Policy Chief said.

The bill is due for a vote this afternoon, with debate continuing on the House floor.

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