“Not this mine. Not this location.” – Star Tribune editorial calls for halt to Twin Metals


“The proposed Twin Metals copper-nickel mine near Ely unambiguously threatens the waters of the BWCA and beyond — waters that aren’t just meant to be kept pristine but that are particularly sensitive to pollutants. Evidence that regulatory processes can help matters has grown slim. Some mining should be acceptable to Minnesotans, but . . . Not this mine. Not this location.”

– Editorial Board of the Star Tribune

Minnesota’s largest newspaper published a three-page editorial on Sunday making the case to stop copper-nickel mining in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness watershed. The piece is notable for the amount of original reporting included, providing fresh information about the issue, interviews, and more. The paper says writer Jill Burcum, a 2015 Pulitzer Prize finalist, made government open-records requests and conducted dozens of interviews. She also spent a week in Ely, Minn. doing reporting and research. In nearly 3,000 words, the editorial board argues that the risks of pollution are too high, and the region’s lakes and rivers are too valuable.

“From the air, on a summer afternoon, the green of the forests and the blue of the lakes glow like gemstones. One sees the connectedness of this water-world — close to 2,000 lakes and more than 1,200 miles of canoe trails, natural highways that brought explorers and fur traders to the continent’s interior.”

Receiving national attention from nonprofits as well as election officials, the editorial was released as Twin Metals anticipates submitting its first mine proposal to authorities next month. The fight over whether or not mining should even be allowed near waters that drain into the wilderness also continues in Congress and the courts.

The editorial board, led by writer Jill Burcum, made the case that it’s up to Minnesotans today to be good stewards of the BWCAW inherited from previous generations. That responsibility means the state should reject mining risks to the wilderness. Burcum explained some of the backstory about writing the piece on Twitter.

“I went up north to report this, of course. But the writing was inspired by a preserve to the south – Frontenac State Park. It has a stunning bluff top view of Lake Pepin. And there’s a plaque there about a Twin Cities man who owned the land and donated it for the state park. He knew this beautiful place should be preserved for future generations. I am one of those who regularly visits and hikes there. And I always wonder, what gestures for the ages has my generation made or is capable of? Protecting the #BWCA from this copper mine would be one such act for the ages. Our forebears did the hard part – setting it aside. Now we just have to honor them and ensure the BWCA stays as pristine as when we inherited it. Let us not fail.”

Map and Illustrations via Star Tribune

There is recent precedent for prohibiting mining near precious natural areas, the writers point out, giving examples of actions in Washington, D.C. focused on protecting other parts of the country.

But the president and his government have not given the same priority to protecting the Boundary Waters. Instead, the editorial board says the White House has moved to let Twin Metals move ahead as quickly as possible. It reversed the renewal rejection of 50-year-old mineral leases, cancelled a study and proposed moratorium, and otherwise gave the company the green light.

“The Trump administration and Congress decided recently that metal mining is too risky to be allowed on public lands near Yellowstone National Park in Montana and near Washington state’s North Cascades National Park… The administration had a chance to expand the mining buffer zone around the BWCA in the same way. Instead, it removed a critical hurdle blocking Twin Metals’ path forward, and in doing so sent a contemptible message: that the Minnesota wilderness is less worthy of protecting than the other two parks.”

Saying the “regulatory framework is broken,” the editorial argues the public is right to feel doubt and mistrust. It also says the Chilean company which owns the project has a track record of release toxins into nearby waterbodies.

The famously pure waters of the wilderness are particularly sensitive to such pollution, the writers say, making the risks greater than almost anywhere els.

“Even minute amounts of pollution could cause unpredictable, outsized harm rippling through the entire ecosystem.”

Reaction included Minnesota Congresswoman Betty McCollum, 2010 gubernatorial candidate for the Independence Party Tom Horner, national environmental organizations, and others. “The regulatory process is broken. The track record of the mining company does not inspire confidence.” said Betty McCollum on twitter. The writers argue that no risk is acceptable near the globally famous Boundary Waters, and no one can give a guarantee Twin Metals won’t harm the wilderness.

In an interview with the company’s chief regulatory officer, Julie Padilla, Burcum seemed surprised by the answer to a final question after giving a facility tour and assurances of new technology.

“Padilla, the chief regulatory officer, and the staff have clearly hosted many tours and can anticipate most questions. So it’s surprising that a simple query at the end of an editorial writer’s interview seemed to catch Padilla off-guard: Can Twin Metals say there’s zero risk to the BWCA? After a pause, Padilla responded, ‘That’s not a fair question.'”

In addition to providing significant background information and arguments against allowing it to proceed, the editorial also includes recommended steps at the state and federal levels to stop Twin Metals.

The writers say Governor Tim Walz and his administration could simply refuse to consider the mine proposal, implement new mining rules to prevent any pollution from harming the Boundary Waters, and halt any new leases of state mineral rights. The legislature could pass a law prohibiting mining in the wilderness watershed.

At the federal level, the editorial board proposes Congress require the Trump administration to finish the study it cancelled that was evaluating the risks of mining near the Boundary Waters. Congress could also follow the example of the recent actions taken to protect areas around other National Parks, by prohibiting mining in the 234,000 acres of the Superior National Forest that drain toward the wilderness. And the next president, if not Trump, could reverse his actions.

Read the full editorial here.

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