Bill encourages mining near popular wilderness area

The watershed of Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (Minnesota) would be in danger if mining projects in the area moved forward.

Credit: Michael H. Schwartz (schwa021), flickr.

A bill under consideration in the House would clear the way for sulfide-ore mining in the Superior National Forest, close to Minnesota's Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

Legislation in the House, H.R. 3905, would allow controversial mining projects in the watershed of one of America's most visited and best loved wilderness areas, Minnesota's Boundary Waters Canoe Area. 

Take action to oppose H.R. 3905 and protect the Boundary Waters

The bill also extends a rash of attacks on the Antiquities Act, one of America's most cherished conservation laws, by barring the extension or establishment of national monument lands in any Minnesota national forests. 

Nestled in the northern portion of the Superior National Forest, the land near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness has been targeted by mining interests for years, posing grave threats to the environment. The U.S. Forest Service is currently deciding whether to allow future sulfide-ore mining leases in the watershed. If H.R. 3905 became law, it would subject such decisions to congressional approval, making future mining much more likely. 

Years-long process led to mining pause and review 

At issue is Twin Metals Minnesota, a company owned by a Chilean mining conglomerate that wants to mine metal in sulfide-bearing ore near the town of Ely, which lies just outside of Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness' southwest boundary. That process can discharge sulfuric acid, sulfates and heavy metals (some of which are highly toxic) into water. Experts say that sulfide-ore mining in the Boundary Waters’ watershed could contaminate the wilderness’ lakes and rivers, potentially also affecting Voyageurs National Park. Adding to these concerns is the sulfide-ore copper mining industry’s poor safety record.   

As its name suggests, Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness is a popular spot for recreational paddling. Credit: Chad Fennell, flickr.

In December 2016, the U.S. Department of the Interior and the Department of Agriculture halted the renewal of leases for sulfide-ore mining in the watershed. The celebrated decision triggered a process of evaluating whether to entirely halt mining near the Boundary Waters over the next two decades. A period for the public to submit comments to the Forest Service ended in August. 

Once the U.S. Forest Service has finished collecting comments, it will take the next two years to produce a final "environmental impact statement" to inform its decision on whether to bar mining in the area over the next 20 years.  

But H.R. 3905 is intended to undermine this process, allow for indefinite extensions of mineral leases on public lands in Minnesota, and limit the ability to protect threatened lands like the Boundary Waters under the Antiquities Act. Rep. Tom Emmer, who introduced the legislation, supports mining in the Boundary Waters watershed.  

Local business-owners and others have argued that outdoor recreation business would be jeopardized by mining, and one study projected losses of hundreds of millions of dollars of annual income in the region if the project were allowed to move forward. Indeed, the late 2016 decision to deny renewal of leases cited likely impacts on the recreation economy.  

Drilling and mining creep ever closer to parks and public lands 

This is becoming a worryingly common occurrence: Interests aligned with the Trump administration and its drilling/mining/logging-boosting friends are pushing development ever closer to some of America's most cherished public lands, including places like the Grand CanyonAlaska's Arctic Refuge and Utah's Bears Ears National Monument.

We won't stand for this. Learn more about lands that are simply "Too Wild to Drill" and take action by telling your member of Congress to vote against H.R. 3905.