Congressional committee passes ban on copper mining near Boundary Waters

U.S. Capitol building (Photo by Mark Wade via Wikipedia)

A bill sponsored by Rep. Betty McCollum to permanently prohibit mining copper and other sulfide ore in the watershed of the Boundary Waters wilderness cleared a key House committee this week on a party-line vote. The House Natural Resources Committee referred the bill to the full House of Representatives for a vote.

The action comes after months of deliberation. While the Democrats in control of the House may pass the bill, it still does not have a companion in the Senate. Minnesota Senators Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith have previously said they were waiting to see the results of a Forest Service study of the topic — which was released last month — before deciding if they will sponsor such legislation.

Rep. Betty McCollum

“I thank Chair Grijalva and the House Natural Resources Committee for recognizing its value and marking up my bill to ensure the fragile ecosystem in the federal Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness is never polluted by sulfide-ore mining,” McCollum said in a statement. “There is no room for error; no level of acceptable risk. Once damaged, it would be damaged forever.”

Mining for metals like copper and nickel can produce toxic pollution that contaminates groundwater and surface water. One mine has been proposed upstream of the Boundary Waters, with more ready to follow if the law allows.

The bill exempts taconite and iron mining from the prohibition, as well as gravel quarries. It would only apply to mineral rights owned by the federal government across about 230,000 acres of National Forest near the Boundary Waters. It would have no effect on the proposed PolyMet copper-nickel mine, which is located in the Lake Superior watershed, at the headwaters of the St. Louis River.

Rep. Pete Stauber, who represents the region and is a fiery advocate for the mining companies, blasted the vote and the bill’s supporters in a statement. He also offered several amendments, which were all rejected.

“Let’s be perfectly clear about what’s happening. Joe Biden and House Democrats continue to try and ban mining, including taconite mining, in a huge swath of northern Minnesota,” Stauber said. “This is unacceptable. We in northern Minnesota know what’s best for the Northland, not out of touch elites from hundreds of miles away. And we will not stand for this.”

The Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters, which supports the watershed mining ban, says almost 70 percent of Minnesotans support the bill. A vote in the full House of Representatives is anticipated later this year. At the same time, the Dept. of Agriculture and other federal agencies are considering a 20-year moratorium on mining in the same area.

More information:

Get Quetico Superior Wilderness News straight to your inbox

Share via
Copy link
Powered by Social Snap