Rep. Emmer introduces bill to override mining barriers near Boundary Waters

Rep. Tom Emmer
Rep. Tom Emmer

The company seeking to build a copper-nickel mine near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness would get its rights to the publicly-owned minerals renewed if new legislation in Congress is enacted.

Twin Metals has been in limbo since last fall when the Forest Service revoked the leases and initiated a process to consider closing the area to mining for at least 20 years.

A “discussion draft” of the bill (PDF) introduced by Rep. Tom Emmer (R-MN) today would “require congressional approval of any mineral withdrawal or monument designation involving the National Forest System lands in the State of Minnesota, to provide for the renewal of certain mineral leases in such lands, and for other purposes.”

The legislation seeks to remove the Forest Service’s authority to remove any lands from mineral development, only allowing Congress to make such decisions. It would also require Congressional approval for any new National Monuments in the state. Finally, it would restore Twin Metals’ mineral leases, which date to a previous mineral exploration company in 1964.

“This bill is an attack on the Boundary Waters Wilderness and the sustainable Wilderness-based economy that depends on it,” said Becky Rom, national campaign chair for the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters. “Instead of following the established process and allowing citizens and scientists to decide the future of the Boundary Waters Wilderness, this bill allows outstate politicians and foreign mining interests to dictate the path forward for our state’s most valuable natural resource. This bill would remove the opportunity for public input and give a foreign mining conglomerate the green light to destroy America’s most visited Wilderness area.”

The Forest Service’s proposal to withdraw public lands in the Boundary Waters watershed from mining for two decades — the maximum time allowed — is in the middle of a public involvement period, which closes August 11.

Last week, about a thousand people attended a hearing in St. Paul, most in favor of protecting the wilderness. Mining supporters boycotted the event, with another hearing scheduled in Virginia tomorrow, Tuesday, July 25.

Comments on the withdrawal can be sent to comments-eastern-superior@fs.fed.us.

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