Stauber introduces resolution, bill to end mineral withdrawal
Democrats and the Department of Interior argue the resolution — a congressional veto — is unconstitutional.
WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Rep. Pete Stauber has introduced a resolution and bill that are both aimed at reversing the mineral withdrawal banning new mining on 225,000 acres of federal land within the same watershed as the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness for the next 20 years.
But one might not be constitutional.
Late last month, Stauber introduced a resolution that disapproved of the withdrawal and, he said, if passed by the house, it would nullify the mineral withdrawal. He cited the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976, which says a withdrawal by the Secretary of the Interior of 5,000 acres or more could be terminated “if the Congress has adopted a concurrent resolution stating that such House does not approve the withdrawal.”
But a 1983 Supreme Court decision, Immigration and Naturalization Service v. Chadha, determined that one-house legislative vetoes were invalid and violated the separation of powers. The U.S District Court of Arizona said that "permitting Congress to terminate a withdrawal by concurrent resolution is unconstitutional."
In a Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources hearing on the resolution and bill Thursday morning, U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the Democrat’s ranking member on the subcommittee, said it is “widely accepted as unconstitutional to try to overturn a withdrawal.”
Additionally, U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., entered into the record a letter from the Department of Interior that said it “strongly opposes any action to reverse the locally driven efforts to protect and preserve this critically important, fragile landscape and acknowledge that the resolution is unconstitutional and therefore will have no effect.”
Asked about the potential unconstitutionality of the resolution, Stauber, who chairs the subcommittee, said he stood by it.
“All options are on the table to overturn the mineral withdrawal,” Stauber said in a statement to the News Tribune on Thursday afternoon. “This authority is written in statute and we therefore intend to use it.”
On Wednesday, Stauber introduced another bill that seeks to overturn the mineral withdrawal. The mineral withdrawal and related actions by the Biden administration effectively killed the Twin Metals copper-nickel mine proposed upstream of the BWCAW.
H.R. 3195, coined the “Superior National Forest Restoration Act,” would reverse the mineral withdrawal, reissue key federal mineral leases to Twin Metals and block judicial review on those actions.
“Let’s pass these bills and study the full environmental impact statement, which is the highest scrutiny allowed under the federal government,” Stauber said. “Let’s mine the minerals we need for our defense applications, modern technology and everyday use with American labor in northern Minnesota.”
Similarly, David Chura, chair of Jobs for Minnesotans, told the subcommittee that project-specific reviews should take place instead of blanket bans.
“The administration should rely on studying site-specific project proposals,” Chura said. “The withdrawal is simply saying ‘no’ to any and all projects instead of using scientific inquiry and a public process to determine the outcome.”
Becky Rom, national chair of Save the Boundary Waters, has long fought the Twin Metals project and is a supporter of the land withdrawal, which was first put in place in the final days of the Obama administration but then reversed by Trump.
Rom said the issue has been studied, and pointed to the U.S. Forest Service’s environmental assessment on the mineral withdrawal, which concluded hardrock mining posed a threat to the BWCAW.
“Our canoe country would be at grave risk of permanent damage if these bills were adopted,” Rom said. “Science is utterly clear about the pollution and destruction that sulfide-ore copper mining on upstream lands and waters would do. Polluted waters would flow north into the Boundary Waters.”
AOC questions Bakk
Also testifying was retired state Sen. Tom Bakk, who became a registered lobbyist for Twin Metals in Minnesota just a few weeks after his final term in the Senate ended in January.
During the hearing, Ocasio-Cortez questioned why Bakk left that out of his opening statement.
She has since posted the interaction to Twitter where it received more than 862,000 views in the first six hours. Her tweet incorrectly said there would be “mining in the Boundary Waters,” which has long been banned.
Twin Metals is hoping to open an underground copper-nickel mine, processing plant and dry-stacked tailings storage facility near — but not in — the BWCAW. It wants to build the mine and facilities on the edge of Birch Lake, which flows into the Kawishiwi River and then the BWCAW. Opponents of the mine fear any pollution that entered the water would then pollute the BWCAW downstream.
She also brought up that Chura worked for Allete and Minnesota Power, which would benefit if the Twin Metals mine opened and became their customer.
The written testimony submitted by both Bakk and Chura did, however, show their affiliations with Twin Metals and Allete, respectively.
“We have two witnesses that have present connections, not past, in stakeholders with a financial interest in advocating for large new mines in the state, regardless of whether or not it would result in economic benefits,” Ocasio-Cortez said. “I think this is important and relevant connections that should be clearly communicated.”