On Sept. 7, U.S. Reps. Rick Nolan and Tom Emmer passed an 11th-hour amendment to the federal omnibus appropriations bill that would defund an ongoing U.S. Forest Service environmental review to investigate the impacts of copper-nickel mining on the watershed that contains the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.
Known as the most toxic industry in America by the EPA, hardrock mining in sulfide ore has a track record for causing serious water pollution and deserves thorough review before allowing it in one of the most pristine watersheds in the country.
This environmental review is widely supported. Almost eight of 10 Minnesotans agree the study should be completed, according to a survey paid for by the Minnesota Environmental Partnership. Even in the 8th Congressional District, where mining could be located, 70 percent of residents support the environmental review. This stands whether you think mining can be done safely or whether you believe mining is too dangerous due to the environmental risks.
More recently, Emmer released another bill that would gut five longstanding and powerful national conservation laws. This bill would undermine the conservation legacy of 16 presidents to protect America's cultural and natural heritage and would allow Congress to supersede the authority of our federal agencies to protect and manage the Superior National Forest.
Together, the two measures would negate the considerable public input from the American people participating in good faith in the two-year environmental review, a process provided by federal law for consideration of mineral withdrawals.
As part of this environmental review, more than 3,000 people attended listening sessions in Duluth, St. Paul, and Virginia, and more than 125,000 people submitted comments to the Forest Service in support of protecting the Boundary Waters from this dangerous type of mining happening nearby. This is one of the largest public involvements in an environmental review in the history of Minnesota. The bills by Nolan and Emmer would throw all this public input out the window.
As members of the Izaak Walton League, McCabe Chapter of Duluth, we are deeply disturbed by this blatant disregard for the thousands of constituents who commented during the environmental review and told the Forest Service they would like to see the study completed. We are particularly disappointed that Nolan would support such “backroom” tactics when he has campaigned on the need for open government and condemned the power of special interests and corporate money on the legislative process.
We have a long history of working on conservation issues in the Arrowhead and taking the time to fully understand the benefits and risks of proposals before taking a stance. Any proposal - by Twin Metals or anyone else - for copper mining within the watershed containing the Boundary Waters would be no different.
With this in mind, it seems absurd to take shortcuts that put our waters, lands, and communities at risk. We agree with U.S. Sen. Al Franken who has urged following the science and being patient.
The environmental and economic dangers of copper-nickel mining have been well-established, while claims that it can be done safely have not been validated or proven true in any of the previous attempts at this type of mining.
Two years is a small price to pay to ensure the wellbeing of our communities, our outdoor heritage, and our economic stability remains intact. We urge the congressmen to reconsider their positions and to stop turning their backs on the majority of their constituents who support protecting our nation’s most-visited wilderness area, which depends on having clean water.
Piper Donlin of Duluth, Matt Hansen of Duluth, Dave Zentner of Duluth, and Rich Staffon of Cloquet are members of the Duluth-based W.J. McCabe Chapter of the Izaak Walton League of America.