Legislation that would erase a federal moratorium on mining near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area WIlderness passed a House committee in Washington Wednesday and now heads to the floor.
The House Natural Resources Committee passed H.R. 3905, sponsored by Rep. Tom Emmer, R-Minn., that also prohibits any president from creating any new national monument in Minnesota without legislative approval.
If it clears the House and Senate and is signed by President Trump, the bill would undo a last-minute move by the Obama administration to revoke mining exploration leases from Twin Metals for its proposed mine along the Kawishiwi River just outside the BWCAW, southeast of Ely.
The U.S. Forest Service at the time also established a moratorium on all new mining in the area just outside the BWCAW until a generic federal study could be conducted on the potential impacts of copper mines on waters that flow into the wilderness.
Copper mining supporters say Twin Metals, owned by Chilean mining giant Antofagasta, should be given the chance to apply for environmental review for the massive underground mine. The company already has pumped $400 million into the project and plans to spend another $1.2 billion to develop the mine that could employ 650 people.
"Today, we came one step closer to undoing the Obama Administration's politically motivated actions in Northern Minnesota," Emmer said in a statement. "Passage of this legislation ensures Minnesotans have a say in sweeping bureaucratic decisions made in Washington. Environmentally responsible mining and exploration in Northern Minnesota will unleash our ability to tap into our abundance of natural resources, and provide for a better way of life for our children, just as those in Northern Minnesota have done for decades ... the future of Minnesota is brighter because of today's vote."
But the Forest Service concluded, and environmental groups agree, that the runoff from the mine poses too great a risk to the pristine waters of the federal wilderness. They also say the company should have nothing to fear from the Forest Service study.
"This radical bill from Tom Emmer is anti-science, anti-public lands and anti-Boundary Waters," said Jason Zabokrtsky of Ely, chairman of Sportsmen for the Boundary Waters. "This bill puts Minnesota's sporting heritage at risk by eliminating a science-based environmental review - a review supported by 79 percent of Minnesotans - in favor of singling out Minnesota as unworthy of our nation's bedrock public lands protections."