The News Tribune's Dec. 5 editorial (Our View: "Right the wrong done to Twin Metals") missed the mark on U.S. Rep. Tom Emmer's ill-conceived legislation to force through Antofagasta's Twin Metals mineral leases and undermine bedrock environmental laws in Minnesota.
Contrary to the editorial, the previous administration's decisions to deny Twin Metals leases and to conduct a two-year study on the effects of copper mining near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness were the result of an intense, three-year period of considering both science and public input. The decisions followed multiple visits to the region by policymakers, two public listening sessions, and a public comment period that generated 30,000 citizen comments urging protection.
The scientific and environmental analysis of the copper mining industry and the Boundary Waters already has included strong peer-reviewed evidence showing the near certainty that the Boundary Waters would be harmed by sulfide-ore copper mining on its doorstep.
The study currently underway will determine once and for all whether copper mining near the Boundary Waters poses too great a risk to be allowed. The study is part of an established process that has been used by both Democratic and Republican administrations for decades to protect priceless public lands like Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon.
Emmer's bill would stop this two-year study and issue Twin Metals leases in perpetuity, thus essentially turning ownership of public lands over to a private company forever.
Current law requires meaningful environmental review before federal mineral leases that risk a national wilderness area can be granted, a review that must also consider not granting the leases. Emmer's bill would eliminate this. Why? A lot of us believe it's because Antofagasta knows a review will show that copper mining in the Boundary Waters watershed poses significant risks to the wilderness.
Emmer's bill goes even further, though. It threatens to undermine five bedrock environmental laws so they no longer apply to Minnesota's national forests. Why are we being singled out as unworthy of the same protections afforded the rest of the country? Why are our public lands being treated as somehow less important than anywhere else in America?
And it was in this context that the editorial claimed that those who want to protect the Boundary Waters and oppose Emmer's bill are extreme. Hardly extreme are those speaking for protecting the Boundary Waters, including Gov. Mark Dayton; U.S. Reps. Erik Paulsen, Tim Walz, Betty McCollum, and Keith Ellison; Vice President Walter Mondale; and Ted Roosevelt IV, the great-grandson of President Theodore Roosevelt. That's not to mention the more than 285 business owners, sportsmen from across the nation, veterans, the Minnesota Academy of Family Physicians, and Minnesotans by a margin in excess of 2-to-1.
In addition, bipartisan opposition by 204 U.S. House members demonstrated that the Emmer bill is bad policy.
The notion being pushed that somehow Antofagasta was treated unfairly is particularly hard to swallow. This is a multibillion-dollar international mining conglomerate backed by the best lobbyists money can buy that bought a failing mining company in 2015 for pennies on the dollar and acquired two expiring mineral leases. It knew a 10-year renewal of the leases was discretionary, that scientific research showed risks of mining so near the Boundary Waters, and that the public strongly opposed this mining operation. Antofagasta's history is checkered with influence-peddling and environmental, cultural, and labor violations. Antofagasta has been presented every opportunity to make its case for why this was the right place for mining sulfide-bearing ore.
Just because Antofagasta didn't get the outcome it wanted doesn't make the process unfair.
Ultimately, this isn't about sulfide-ore copper mining; it's about the Boundary Waters and the legacy we leave our children and their children.
Jon Nelson of Duluth is co-chairman of Northeastern Minnesotans for Wilderness (nmworg.org).