Former Sen. Bakk: Mining ban undermines a greener future

From the column: "Instead of testing the proposed mine against environmental laws and standards, the government succumbed to political pressure, ignored the established process, ... and issued a blanket, decades-long ban based on ... hypothetical scenarios."

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Former state Sen. Tom Bakk of Cook

In 28 years representing northern Minnesota at the state Capitol, I learned that the real failures came when we "solved" complicated problems with oversimplified, shortsighted remedies.

That's what we saw last week when the federal government placed a 20-year mining ban on 225,000 acres in Northeastern Minnesota. It may feel good to some, but the only thing accomplished was to push a looming crisis for Minnesota and the nation 20 years further down the road. The hypocrisy and contradictions with this nonsensical "solution" are mind-boggling.

If we agree that shifting to cleaner energy sources is a priority for our nation, then this was a terrible, shortsighted, political decision. It locks away one of our most potent tools for transitioning to clean energy sources, combating social and environmental injustices around the globe, and, yes, also protecting the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness from its most imminent threat: climate change.

The ban is the result of political fear-mongering. It takes one of the world's largest deposits of the minerals required for the low-carbon conversion off the table without even conducting an adequate environmental review of any real and tangible proposed project.

So, on the one hand, the administration sets an ambitious agenda for producing clean energy here in the United States, shoring up domestic mineral supply chains, and creating American jobs while, with the other hand, that same administration removes from consideration a domestic treasure trove of critical minerals prolonging our reliance on sourcing metals from foreign adversaries who exploit workers in poorly regulated and polluting mines.


This forces us to continue to rely on even more carbon-heavy energy to move these heavy metals across the globe from those foreign adversarial nations to our shores. How is that productive?

We all support green energy, but we can't just pretend that it's just going to happen with the snap of our fingers. It worries me that we're forgetting where things come from.

Metals aren't only needed to make windmills, solar panels, and electric cars, but also your phones, laptops, the electricity in your homes and many medical devices and equipment.

Everything that sustains life is either grown or mined. That's it. Recycling will only take us so far. If we want a greener future, we must have mining. And we should be demanding that those minerals be mined here, where we can properly regulate the mines and enforce strong labor standards.

Despite what you've been reading, this withdrawal does not add any further protections to the BWCAW that didn't already exist. Mining has been banned in the BWCAW and buffer zones surrounding it since the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness Act was signed in 1978. Nobody has ever proposed a mine in the wilderness area.

What's more, there are existing environmental-review processes in place to evaluate new mine proposals. In fact, Twin Metals Minnesota has been waiting for that environmental review for more than three years.

But instead of testing the proposed mine against environmental laws and standards, the government succumbed to political pressure; ignored the established process for the agencies, tribal governments, and the public to evaluate mining projects on their merits; and issued a blanket, decades-long ban based on the basis of hypothetical scenarios.

The mining withdrawal is the easy and irresponsible political response to a complex proposal that is based on more than a decade of rigorous geological and environmental research. The executive order is not supported by a thorough environmental review. It can be and probably will be reversed by a future administration.


But let's hope we come to our senses before that and give Twin Metals the review it deserves — the same courtesy that any responsible company, in any industry, hoping to do business in our state deserves.

While we wait, the actual threat of climate change destroying the BWCAW only gets stronger.

Tom Bakk of Cook didn’t seek reelection last year after first being elected to the Minnesota House in 1994 and then to the Minnesota Senate in 2002. He retired as an independent.

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