Of the 61-page environmental assessment examining the impacts of copper-nickel mining on the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, all but the cover page is blacked out — redacted due to "Deliberative Process Privilege."
That's angered environmentalists who say it's just one more way the Trump administration is blocking information on issue, Save the Boundary Waters said in email Wednesday morning after a Star Tribune editorial shared and mocked the heavily redacted document.
"The Trump Administration has moved heaven and earth to keep the contents of this report out of the public’s view," Save the Boundary Waters said in the emailed statement.
The document was provided to the News Tribune on Wednesday by the Wilderness Society, the environmental group that sued for, and has received, hundreds of pages of emails and documents, many heavily redacted.
The report was required after President Barack Obama in 2016 ordered a study on the effects of sulfide-ore mining near the BWCAW, and banned mining on more than 200,000 acres of the Superior National Forest and within the Rainy River Watershed, which is shared with the BWCAW.
The study and ban were later canceled by the Trump administration.
Last week, U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum, a Democrat from St. Paul, questioned Vicki Christiansen, chief of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Forest Service, at the U.S. Forest Service's budget request hearing.
"Clearly, the Forest Service has completed a substantial amount of work on the environmental assessment before it was canceled, but the Department of Agriculture is refusing to let me have access for it, denying the public the ability to see the work that they paid for," McCollum said, flipping through the document show how heavily redacted it was.
Christiansen said the document was a draft.
"I do understand your concerns," Christiansen said. "The environmental assessment was not finalized. It remains a draft, and it is deliberative. It's possible the version that was emailed internally didn't have the word 'draft' on the first page and I know that USDA staff are willing to meet with you to discuss your oversight requests in the future."
Alison Flint, senior legal director at the Wilderness Society, said the federal agency is redacting the information based on "Deliberative Process Privilege," which could withhold internal-agency deliberations if the document had not be publicly issued or a decision had not been made by the agency.
But she doesn't buy it.
The context from other documents the organization has received, and the lack of a "draft" label on this document, shows the document was a "near final draft," Flint said. The study was about 20 months into a 24-month process when it was canceled.
"Agency environmental assessments contain all sorts of information that couldn't be considered deliberate," Flint said, noting the environmental assessment is not a national security document.
"These types of documents include scientific information, actually information, and there's just absolutely no sort of straight-face way you can claim that all 60-pages should be fully redacted as deliberative," Flint said.
Wilderness Society will fight the redactions in court, Flint said.
The adequacy of environmental reports on mining near the BWCAW produced by the Trump administration have been questioned before.
In February, the U.S. State Department released an eight-paragraph report on copper-nickel mining's environmental effects on international waters shared by the United States and Canada.