Poll finds growing statewide opposition to copper-nickel mining near Boundary Waters

Canoeing the BWCAW (Photo by Dave Freeman, courtesy Save the Boundary Waters Campaign)
Canoeing the BWCAW (Photo by Dave Freeman, courtesy Save the Boundary Waters Campaign)

A new survey released by anti-mining organization Save the Boundary Waters reports an increasing number of Minnesotans are opposed to copper-nickel mining in the wilderness watershed. The percentage is 11 points higher than a year ago, and now includes a majority of voters in the Eighth Congressional District of northeastern Minnesota.

The survey of 800 voters found 70 percent oppose the Twin Metals project (it was 59 percent in 2017). Only 22 percent of voters across the state support mining in areas where water drains toward the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

Chilean firm Antofagasta PLC is promoting the Twin Metals project, which it says could provide billions of dollars of minerals and hundreds of good jobs. Environmental advocates say the industry has a track record of creating catastrophic water pollution. The mine would be located along the South Kawishiwi River.

Political public opinion

Washington, D.C. firm Fabrizio Ward conducted the poll. One of its founders was the chief pollster for President Donald Trump’s campaign in 2016. It included an “oversample” in the Eighth District to get better accuracy in the region.

The question asked of respondents was: “As you may know, mining companies have also proposed opening sulfide ore copper mines on the edge of the Boundary Waters Wilderness. From what you know, do you favor or oppose sulfide ore copper mining in the areas near the Boundary Waters Wilderness?”

Seven in 10 registered voters told the pollsters they were opposed. The opposition is not just larger, but more passionate. Fifty-two percent of respondents said they are “strongly opposed.”

The pollsters say the survey has implication for candidates running for governor of Minnesota in this fall’s election. More than half the respondents say they would vote for a candidate who would continue Governor Mark Dayton’s policy prohibiting mining activity on state lands in the area.

“There is no upside for a gubernatorial candidate to come out in support of allowing sulfide ore copper mining near the Boundary Waters Wilderness,” the agency said. “Only 12% of voters say would be more likely to vote for a candidate that allows sulfide ore copper mining near the Boundary Waters Wilderness.”

Sixty-four percent of voters favor Dayton’s directive to block mining on state lands, including a slim majority in the Eighth District. Seventy-eight percent support the federal government’s decision in 2016 to put a two-year pause on mining activity while information is collected to consider a mining moratorium in the watershed for 20 years.

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