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With seat in jeopardy, Erik Paulsen suddenly becomes an environmentalist

Though Erik Paulsen's environmental record borders on cartoon villainy, his new campaign ad presents him as the hero the Boundary Waters needs.

Though Erik Paulsen's environmental record borders on cartoon villainy, his new campaign ad presents him as the hero the Boundary Waters needs. YouTube

Eden Prairie Republican Rep. Erik Paulsen’s new campaign commercial opens with soulful piano music and a zoom in on a family photo album. Then comes Paulsen, in voiceover form:

“My parents taught me to love the outdoors,” he says. “I camp and canoe with my family in Minnesota’s Yellowstone: the Boundary Waters.”

The Boundary Waters are a gem for outdoor enthusiasts -- 234,000 acres of untouched wilderness, miles from any human activity. And as the congressman sees it, they represent a key difference between his politics and those of President Donald Trump.

Earlier this year, the Trump administration reversed an Obama-era decision to restrict mining in the area, allowing Twin Metals to renew its old leases near Ely. This kind of mining produces toxic byproducts when exposed to air, rain, and snow. It’s notorious for leeching poison into surrounding land, water, and wildlife.

When Trump tried to strip protections from Minnesota’s Yellowstone, Paulsen said “No way.”

“I’m for mining -- just not there.”

He’s a different kind of Republican, the ad implies. One not afraid to stand up to the president or his party to protect Minnesota’s greatest treasure.

But the advertisement's Erik Paulsen doesn't sound at all like the one who's been representing Minneapolis' western suburbs. 

Paulsen votes in line with Trump 97.6 percent of the time, including on the repeal of a rule requiring energy companies to reduce waste and emissions. He also voted to drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and to cut $16 million from the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

Over the course of his career, Paulsen’s environmental record verges on cartoon villain territory. The League of Conservation Voters, which tracks members of Congress on votes concerning clean water, fighting climate change, and wildlife protection, gives him a 14 percent score for 2017 and a 16 percent lifetime score -- on a scale of 100. 

As for his independence, Paulsen's financial statements read like the ultimate swamp resume. He’s taken $1.6 million from PACs -- putting him in eighth place for special interest money in the entire House. That includes $200,000 from the oil and gas industry.

“Canoeing for the cameras is a cute stunt, but when it comes to actually protecting clean water and public lands, Erik Paulsen is misleading Minnesotans,” says the League of Conservation Voters' Alyssa Roberts. “How are we supposed to trust Erik Paulsen to keep his word when his votes say otherwise?”

Still, Alex Falconer of Save the Boundary Waters is grateful for the nod, even if it's only a one-time campaign ploy.

“He really recognizes that his constituents don’t want this sort of mine adjacent to the Boundary Waters,” he says.

Falconer can't speak to the rest of Paulsen’s career. He’s just hoping the congressman will make good on this promise.