Minnesota lawmakers attempt to stop Superior National Forest mining study

Mineral exploration on the Superior National Forest (Photo by Greg Seitz)
Mineral exploration on the Superior National Forest (Photo by Greg Seitz)

Two Congressmen from Minnesota amended a House appropriations bill yesterday to prevent the U.S. Forest Service from completing a study of mining near the Boundary Waters.

Reps. Rick Nolan (D-MN8) and Tom Emmer (R-MN6), who previously partnered on legislation to cancel the study and restore mineral exploration rights to a Chilean company, seek to block the review process in order to expedite mine development.

The amendment would prohibit the Forest Service from using any funds in the next fiscal year on the study, which is well underway.

Emmer offered the amendment during floor debate yesterday, asking to add language affecting the Forest Service’s 2018 funding: “None of the funds made available by this Act may be used to withdraw National Forest System lands within the Rainy River Watershed on the Superior National Forest from disposition under United States mineral and geothermal leasing laws.”

In follow-up remarks, Emmer said it would provide access to valuable minerals and provide economic benefits to Minnesota.

“Our amendment halts a last-minute effort by the previous administration that would restrict all leasing, exploration, and  potential development of approximately 234,000 acres of Federal land in
northeast Minnesota,” he said.

Nolan believes in bypassing the study for historical reasons according to a press release.

He said legislative history “made it clear that mining, forestry and other multiple use activities were explicitly to be allowed in the remaining two million acres [of the Superior National Forest],” the Duluth News Tribune reported.

The amendment was criticized by Minnesota Reps. Betty McCollum (D-MN4) and Erik Paulsen (R-MN3), as well as environmental groups.

“In my opinion, this amendment sets a horrible precedent, wastes taxpayer dollars already invested in the study, and threatens a national treasure. It should never become law,” McCollum said on the House floor during debate.

Paulsen rose to oppose the amendment, calling the Boundary Waters “one of our country’s most spectacular wilderness areas” and saying the study should be completed so decisions about mining can be made with good information.

“Earlier this year, the Trump administration said it would allow the current environmental review process to proceed to  completion. 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,” he said.

Thousands of people have already attended public meetings and submitted comments on the plan. The Save the Boundary Waters organization said the amendment would ignore all that public input.

“This amendment would kill the scientific study and shut out hundreds of thousands of Americans voices from weighing in on the fate of the Boundary Waters,” the group said.

The Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness also urged supporters to call Congress and urge their representatives to vote against the amendment.

Ultimately, the amendment was successfully placed in the omnibus bill by a voice vote. The legislation has not yet passed the House of Representatives, and no such amendment has yet been offered to companion legislation in the Senate.

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