In Congressional testimony last week, Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, who oversees the U.S. Forest Service, stated that a two-year study of the environmental impacts of mining near the Boundary Waters will continue. The process could result in a 20-year moratorium on mining in the wilderness watershed.
President Obama’s administration initiated the review late last year, but observers believed that the new Trump administration might cancel it and instead fast-track the Twin Metals mine proposal.
In a subcommittee hearing on May 25, Perdue told Minnesota Congresswoman and mining opponent Betty McCollum that the review will proceed. Perdue said the issue was “on his radar screen” and that he had met with Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke about it.
In the same hearing, Forest Service chief Tom Tidwell acknowledged that mining sulfide ores in a water-rich environment like the Superior National Forest is “more challenging” than other ores. Tidwell also said the study could conclude that mining near the BWCAW “may be too hazardous.”
Tidwell began his remarks by saying mining is “an essential part of multiple-use” and important to the state of Minnesota and the United States.
“I very much appreciate that Secretary Perdue confirmed that the Trump administration will allow this important study to proceed and that Chief Tidwell acknowledged the serious risks that copper-sulfide mining can pose,” Congresswoman McCollum said in a statement. “Minnesota’s Boundary Waters are a national treasure, and I look forward to working together with Secretary Perdue to ensure that we ‘do no harm’ to this pristine wilderness.”
Rep. Rick Nolan, who represents the Eighth Congressional District, including the Boundary Waters region, ignited controversy earlier in the month when he met with Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to press the administration to renew mineral leases Twin Metals needs to proceed with its proposal. They were cancelled at the same time the study was announced in December 2016.
Marshall Helmberger, publisher of the Timberjay newspapers in northern Minnesota, published an editorial after Nolan’s meeting calling the effort “reckless.”
“That he is willing to trust a president who has put the fox in charge of every regulatory henhouse, to oversee “protection” of a resource as extraordinary as the Boundary Waters wilderness is evidence that political ambition has outstripped his common sense,” Helmberger wrote.
A recent article in Minneapolis publication City Pages reported that the Chilean company Antofagasta PLC, which wholly owns Twin Metals, has a track record of accidents and pollution at its mines in Chile.
The article recounted disasters such as a 2009 incident at the company’s “flagship mine,” in which 13,000 liters of copper concentrate were discharged into a river; cutting off water to a village when it built a waste dam; charges of violating permits and illegally using water; and destruction of valuable cultural and historic artifacts.
Watch Rep. McCollum’s exchange on May 25 with Perdue and Tidwell in the video below: