Tom Emmer's quest to subvert Boundary Waters mining moratorium

A sportsmen's group called the congressman's push “anti-science, anti-public lands, and anti-Boundary Waters.”

A sportsmen's group called the congressman's push “anti-science, anti-public lands, and anti-Boundary Waters.” Brian Peterson, Star Tribune

Minnesota Congressman Tom Emmer (R), with co-sponsors Reps. Jason Lewis (R) and Collin Peterson (DFL), proposed legislation last month to undo Obama-era restrictions on copper-nickel mining near the Boundary Waters. The MINER Act would make it harder to halt mining on federal lands, and fast-track renewal of mineral leases for the contentious Twin Metals mine.

Last December, the Obama Administration refused to renew leases for Twin Metals, a subsidiary of Chilean mining giant Antofagasta. At the same time, it proposed a 20-year moratorium on mining near the Boundary Waters, depending on the outcome of a two-year environmental review by the U.S. Forest Service.

Environmentalists hailed the decision, saying the sulfuric acid byproduct of copper-nickel mining would permanently poison the Boundary Waters watershed. Mining proponents called it government overreach and a job-killing regulatory burden. Twin Metals sued the federal government, arguing it’s entitled to the permits.

Emmer and Rep. Rick Nolan (DFL) have been working ever since to resuscitate the project. In September, they proposed an amendment to the House’s Interior-Environment appropriations bill to defund the Forest Service’s study. Bipartisan backlash came from Rep. Betty McCollum (DFL), a staunch opponent of sulfide mining in the Boundary Waters, as well as Rep. Erik Paulsen (R), who broke ranks to speak out against the weakening of the environmental review process.

On Wednesday, Emmer’s MINER Act passed the House Committee on Natural Resources, and is now on its way to the House floor for a full vote.

"We can preserve our beautiful state without permanently destroying any future job creation or economic development,” Emmer said. “We can utilize the largest untapped copper-nickel deposit in the world for Americans, and in an environmentally sound way. While there are still numerous environmental and safety benchmarks that must be met in the coming years before any mining can occur, passage of the MINER Act will let our federal, state, and local environmental review process to proceed.”

In response Jason Zabokrtsky, chair of the Sportsmen for the Boundary Waters, called the bill “anti-science, anti-public lands, and anti-Boundary Waters.”

“This bill puts Minnesota’s sporting heritage at risk by eliminating a science-based environmental review -- a review supported by 79 percent of Minnesotans – in favor of singling out Minnesota as unworthy of our nation’s bedrock public lands protections.”

In March, Republican pollster Tony Fabrizio surveyed Minnesotans’ opinions on mining, and found that while most Minnesotans support mines in general, 59 percent do not want sulfide mining anywhere near the Boundary Waters.