Nolan: Interior not plotting to ban mining near BWCAW

Days after a speech by U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell seemed to doom mining on federal lands near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan said he's been assured that's

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Days after a speech by U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell seemed to doom mining on federal lands near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan said he's been assured that's not the case.

Jewell on Tuesday listed the BWCAW with two federal areas in western states where federal drilling permits have been revoked by the Obama administration, saying that there are some places so special that development should not be allowed to impact them.

That speech set off anger among supporters of the Twin Metals copper mine proposed near Ely - on the edge of the BWCAW but outside the wilderness - that Jewell was pushing a de facto moratorium on mining in the BWCAW watershed, called the Rainy River watershed.

Indeed, the Bureau of Land Management is considering whether to renew mining permits that are critical for the Twin Metals project. Jewell oversees the BLM.


But on Friday Nolan, DFL-Crosby, who represents all of Northeastern Minnesota, including the Iron Range, said he conferred with White House officials this week and hosted a meeting with BLM Deputy Director Linda Lance to discuss the status of the agency's review of the Twin Metals leases specifically and mining in the Rainy River watershed in general. Nolan said the meeting was to "obtain greater clarity on the timelines and scope of environmental review and actions."

Local elected officials also attended the meeting, including members of the Range Association of Municipalities and Schools which supports the Twin Metals project to increase tax base in the region.

The group talked about Jewell's comments Tuesday that her department should "re-examine whether decisions made in prior administrations properly considered where it makes sense to develop and where it doesn't," specifically citing the Boundary Waters in Minnesota and implying action by President Obama under the Antiquities Act that would ban mining in the entire Rainy River watershed, which includes a large portion of Minnesota's Iron Range.

Copper mining supporters "were alarmed by Secretary Jewell's statement," Nolan said. "In addition to assurances from the White House that they were unaware of any such action being contemplated in the White House, Deputy BLM Director Lance told us that she was not aware of any such plans, despite recent statements by Interior Secretary Jewell seeming to indicate otherwise."

Nolan said he was also assured he would be told if the agency develops such a plan.

"With the BLM and Department of Interior being lobbied so hard by a variety of forces to stop mining, it was very important for this agency to hear from our Range officials about the importance of mining not only to the Iron Range, but also to our national economy and national security,'' Nolan said.

Steve Giorgi, RAMS executive director, said the group was "satisfied that our message was delivered on the subject of federal mineral leases in the Rainy River Watershed Basin and we will continue to spread that message with Senators Franken and Klobuchar as well as with other members of the Minnesota congressional delegation."

Lance told the Minnesota group that the BLM is working closely with the U.S. Forest Service to determine the next steps in the environmental review process. Nolan expects to meet with additional high-ranking administration officials in the near future and similarly urge them to let the process play out without undue political interference.


Iron Rangers attending the meeting included Babbitt Mayor Andrea Zupancic, Hoyt Lakes Mayor Mark Skelton, Ely Mayor Chuck Novak, Aurora councilor Dave Lislegard and Nancy Norr, director of regional development for Minnesota Power.

John Myers reports on the outdoors, natural resources and the environment for the Duluth News Tribune. You can reach him at
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