Twin Metals legislation passes House, Senate support seems elusive

Sulfide Mining Activity in Northeastern Minnesota. Map courtesy Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness.

Last week, a bill sponsored by Rep. Tom Emmer to restore mineral rights needed for the Twin Metals mine proposal on the edge of the Boundary Waters narrowly passed the House of Representatives. The rights had been withdrawn a year ago in the final weeks of the Obama administration.

Rep. Tom Emmer

While pro-mining advocates celebrated, and wilderness defenders lamented the reversal, it’s far from becoming law.

The vote did not fall on typical party lines. Members of Minnesota Congressional delegation were divided, with Democratic Reps. Rick Nolan and Colin Peterson voting for the bill, while Republican Rep. Erik Paulsen voting (and speaking) against it.

“The vote was close and showed the broad, bipartisan opposition to a foreign conglomerate threatening our Boundary Waters with toxic mining,” said Democratic Rep. Betty McCollum, one of the bill’s chief opponents.

Foggy future

This context is important for the future of the legislation. There is no companion legislation in the Senate yet, and it’s unclear who might take it up. According to MinnPost’s Washington, D.C. correspondent, Sam Brodey, all eyes are on Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar:

“That it so narrowly targets Minnesota means it will likely need an advocate from Minnesota to move forward. Sen. Al Franken is out, having previously said that he supports the environmental review put in place by the Obama administration.

“Klobuchar, who is up for re-election next year, has been more cautious on the topic, and has not publicly weighed in on Emmer’s bill. This fall, advocates on both sides of the debate have expressed confidence that Klobuchar understands their arguments — and that she will ultimately side with them. (Klobuchar’s office did not comment for this story.)

“Some Democrats familiar with the process do not expect Klobuchar would go to bat for Emmer’s legislation in the Senate and risk becoming associated with a deeply controversial topic in Minnesota. Without her involvement, they say, Emmer’s bill is as good as dead on arrival in the upper chamber.”

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Rep. Emmer told MinnPost that he is hesitant to ask Klobuchar to support the bill. He instead put his hopes on the White House, pointing to disrespectful comments made by wilderness advocates published in the New York Times Magazine last month as an incentive to President Donald Trump.

“Recently, there’s been some press where some of these environmental folks were less than kind to the working folks of Minnesota,” Emmer said. “I think the president, if he wants to, can weigh in on the side of working men and women in northern Minnesota.”

The Twin Metals leases were originally issued to predecessor companies in the 1960s and had been renewed repeatedly until the Obama administration blocked renewal as it moved to consider a 20-year moratorium on mining in the Boundary Waters watershed.

Mineral exploration on the Superior National Forest near the South Kawishiwi River (Photo by Greg Seitz)
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