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Local View: Protect Boundary Waters' economic, environmental advantages

State and federal authorities are on their way to approving sulfide-ore copper mining in Northeastern Minnesota, threatening the ecosystem of America's most-visited wilderness area, the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

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State and federal authorities are on their way to approving sulfide-ore copper mining in Northeastern Minnesota, threatening the ecosystem of America's most-visited wilderness area, the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

Alison Rosengren

In 2016, the administration of President Barack Obama terminated mineral leases to Twin Metals Minnesota, recognizing the "inherent potential risk" of regionally untested sulfur mining within the same watershed as the BWCAW. Within about a year, the administration of President Donald Trump reinstated the leases and canceled a study of the impacts of copper mining on the region and a 20-year ban on copper mining in the Superior National Forest ("Trump administration renews Twin Metals mining leases," May 16).

According to Earthworks, a U.S. environmental protection organization, the Trump administration ignored more than 55 scientific and economic studies showing that copper mining in Northeastern Minnesota would cause significant and long-lasting harm to the Boundary Waters area. The federal government must recognize the obvious economic and ecosystemic dangers of sulfide-ore mining near the BWCAW.

The Boundary Waters contains 1.1 million acres of pristine water and woodlands. A Twin Metals mine could be located on the headwaters of the Rainy River, just outside the BWCAW.


Hydraulic consultant Tom Myers researched the risk of acid mine drainage leaking into the wilderness area and published his results in a "Technical Memorandum" report. He explained that "the many streams, wetlands, lakes and aquifers downstream of the mine sites are massively interconnected." It would be impossible to prevent acid mine drainage from entering the BWCAW, he wrote.

Additionally, Myers documented the dirty history of sulfide-ore mining, including how it's prone to spills and leaks. He claimed "it's not a question of whether, but when, a leak will occur." Such a leak could have a devastating and irreversible impact on water quality in the BWCAW. Pollution from sulfide-ore copper mines threatens wildlife, human health, and the untouched beauty of a national treasure.

I've enjoyed the BWCAW for years on trips with my dad. Those trips sparked my love for the outdoors, provided me a serene escape from the busyness of life, and inspired a father-daughter tradition.

People visit the BWCAW for its pure and flawless beauty. Once its pristine waters are contaminated, this beauty would be gone for good.

Mining threatens to do more harm than good for the economy of Northeastern Minnesota. Tourism in the region supports 18,000 jobs and brings in $850 million in annual sales.

James H. Stock, a prominent Harvard economics professor and a former member of the White House Council of Economic Advisors, researched the 20-year impacts of proposed mining on the region's economy. He found that protecting the Boundary Waters from sulfide-ore mining would generate greater long-term income and employment for the region than building mines.

Additionally, a 2018 meta-analysis by the Boundary Waters Business Coalition showed copper mining would result in devastating economic losses to the Arrowhead Region just outside of the BWCAW. Potential consequences for the three-county region include $288 million in lost annual visitor spending, $509 million in lost property value, between 5,066 to 22,791 lost jobs, and between $402 million and $1.6 billion in lost annual income.

Hard facts demonstrate that protecting the Boundary Waters would supports economic stability in Northeastern Minnesota while also preserving a national treasure. The federal government must acknowledge this research and terminate federal mineral leases to Twin Metals. Additionally, the Trump administration should support permanent protection of the Boundary Waters by placing a ban on all sulfide-ore copper mining in the watershed that contains the BWCAW. The federal government should relaunch the environmental review initiated by the Obama administration and the 20-year ban on copper mining. The government must recognize the scientific and economic advantages of protecting the waters and woodlands of the BWCAW.


For the Trump administration to listen, we must make our voices heard. Visit to sign a petition, learn how to message congressional representatives, or donate. Encourage others to learn about the federally supported initiatives that could ruin America's most-visited wilderness and inspire them to help.

Let's save the Boundary Waters.


Alison M. Rosengren of Minneapolis wrote this originally as part of an assignment for a class at Northwestern University in Chicago.

Related Topics: TWIN METALS
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