Rep. McCollum Seeks Legislation To Halt New Mining in BWCAW And Voyageurs Watersheds

Map of Twin Metals mineral leases in the Boundary Waters and Voyageurs National Park watershed.
Map of Twin Metals mineral leases in the Boundary Waters and Voyageurs National Park watershed. (Courtesy MN Center for Environmental Advocacy)

Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN) has announced she plans to introduce a bill this week to prohibit sulfide-ore mining in areas that drain into the Boundary Waters and Voyageurs National Park.

The Congresswoman from Minnesota’s Fourth District, representing St. Paul and much of the eastern suburbs, said she was inspired by the United States’ tradition of conservation, including that of her predecessor and mentor Bruce Vento, who was essential to protecting the Boundary Waters and Voyageurs in the 1970s.

“Ensuring that the water flowing into Voyageurs and the BWCA is as clean and clear as the water inside these protected areas will not happen without direct action from Congress and the Obama Administration,” Rep. McCollum wrote in a statement. “This week I will introduce legislation to do just that – extend additional protections to prevent mining related pollution from destroying these two treasures.”

McCollum also pointed to constituents as the cause for her action, saying she had recently received a petition with 60,000 signatures from across the country calling for the protections.

Twin Metals, the mining company owned by Chilean conglomerate Antofagasta PLC, said the legislation would circumvent the established environmental review process.

“It’s all about knowing and understanding the regulations up front and designing our project to meet those regulatory standards,”Twin Metals spokesman Bob McFarlin told MinnPost. “If we don’t, we don’t get approved to move forward.”

Much of the minerals that Twin Metals controls in the area are leased from the federal government for 50 years. McCollum made it clear her bill would not revoke the company’s right to mine those leases, but would block other federal lands from future leasing. Mining minerals that have already been leased would be subject to new regulations.

“[W]here federal mineral leases currently exist, my bill will require modern, enforceable conditions on mining companies that protect both the environment and American taxpayers,” the statement said.

Mining is already prohibited by the federal and state government in a few areas near the Boundary Waters, including the Gunflint Trail, Fernberg Trail, and Echo Trail corridors, and within a quarter-mile of the edge of the wilderness.

The Save the Boundary Waters campaign immediately announced a “thank you note” to Rep. McCollum, saying, “Your action to protect the Boundary Waters honors the legacy of past wilderness defenders and the millions of citizens who enjoy the greatest canoe country in the world.”

In a Facebook post, the Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness said, “[McCollum’s] bill is bringing attention to the serious threat sulfide mining poses to the Boundary Waters and we appreciate her action to protect the wilderness.

According to MinnPost, the Save the Boundary Waters campaign is also calling for the Bureau of Land Management to deny renewal of Twin Metals’ leases, and is asking President Barack Obama to issue an executive order removing all of northern Minnesota from mineral leasing for 20 years.

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