Weather Forecast


National View: Minnesotans of all politics uniting to protect BWCAW

I've been around politics a long time, and for as long as I can remember our politics has been split by a sharp partisan divide over tax policy, education, and many other things.

Walter MondaleBut in Minnesota, people are crossing party lines to protect the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

Over the last three years, as the debate over sulfide-ore copper mining near the Boundary Waters has intensified, something out of the ordinary has happened: The views of independents, Republicans, and Democrats have coalesced around the need to protect the Boundary Waters — not only because it's a priceless natural wonder but also because it is one of the biggest and most sustainable economic engines in Northeastern Minnesota.

Recent polling from a Republican-aligned firm shows broad bipartisan support for protecting the Boundary Waters. According to the study, 70 percent of Minnesotans are opposed to sulfide-ore copper mining near the Boundary Waters, with only 22 percent supporting it. That marks a net 16 percent increase in opposition from a similar poll a year ago.

A similar trend can be found in the 8th Congressional District (which covers Northeastern Minnesota), where 56 percent are opposed to copper mining near the Boundary Waters — a 7 percent increase over the previous year.

That the Boundary Waters is Minnesota's crown jewel and an indelible part of our heritage goes without saying, but many around the state are beginning to awaken to the fact that it is also the heart of Northeastern Minnesota's burgeoning sustainable economy. Those banding together to protect this special place include small-business operators catering to hunters, anglers, and outdoors visitors; contractors and trades businesses supporting a growing second-family home industry; talented young people launching breweries, arts communities, and retail shops; and many others. They all know that turning the outer edge of the wilderness into an industrial mining zone would be a jobs-killer, destroying the quality of life that drives their bottom line.

More Republicans across the state oppose copper mining near the Boundary Waters than support it, joining overwhelming opposition among independents and Democrats. And for good reason. Sulfide-ore copper mining has poisoned 40 percent of all watersheds in the western United States. That's a sorry track record we can't afford to bring near the Boundary Waters.

Of course, worries over the destructive history of copper mining are compounded by knowledge that Antofagasta, which owns Twin Metals Minnesota and is the company pushing mining near the wilderness, has an exceedingly troublesome record. In Chile, where most of its operations are located, Antofagasta was found guilty by the Chilean supreme court of blocking villagers' access to water in 2014; faced fines of more than $20 million for breaching its environmental permit in 2016; and was responsible for the highest number of toxic spills in the region of Coquimbo, in one case dumping 3,434 gallons of copper concentrate directly into a river.

Here in the United States, we saw up close how Antofagasta does business when its owner, Andronico Luksic, purchased a house immediately after the 2016 election and promptly leased it to Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump's daughter and son-in-law. This was just as the administration of President Barack Obama was deciding not to renew mineral leases Antofagasta sought near the Boundary Waters. To the surprise of no one, in December 2017, the Trump administration took action to support issuing the leases without rigorous environmental review.

This wasn't the first time Luksic used his billions to apparently curry favor with the family of a head of state. In 2015, a bank under his control gave a special $10 million loan to the daughter-in-law of the Chilean president after a private meeting with her.

Why would we trust these people to protect the Boundary Waters while conducting an inherently destructive, highly toxic extractive enterprise just off the very edge of the wilderness and on a major waterway that flows into the wilderness?

Minnesotans — independents, Democrats, and Republicans — are rightly opposed.

American politics today is as divisive as it ever has been, but here and there points of agreement emerge in the electorate. In Minnesota, protecting the Boundary Waters from toxic mining is one of them.

Walter F. Mondale of Minneapolis is retired and the former vice president of the United States. He wrote this exclusively for the News Tribune.