One bill, touching on two issues close to Minnesota’s heart — the mining economy and the wild beauty of the North Woods — divided the state’s congressional delegation this week.
The House signed off Thursday on a plan that would reopen land near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness to mineral exploration and clear the way for a new copper-nickel mine near Ely. The Obama administration had called for a 20-year moratorium on mining in the region, just as Twin Metals was planning a new copper mine in the Superior National Forest.
The vote split the delegation, but not along straight party lines. Voting yes were Republican Reps. Tom Emmer — the bill’s sponsor — and Jason Lewis, as well as Democratic Reps. Rick Nolan, whose district includes the Boundary Waters, and Collin Peterson. Voting no were Democratic Reps. Tim Walz, Keith Ellison and Betty McCollum, and Republican Rep. Erik Paulsen.
“The Boundary Waters Canoe Area is Minnesota’s Yellowstone,” said Paulsen, who wants a two-year environmental review of the effect of mining in the headwaters to continue.
Emmer argued that strict state and federal environmental laws already protect the Boundary Waters, while his bill protects the economy in a struggling region of the state.
“We are protecting more than ten thousand jobs and billions of dollars in revenue and education funding, while leaving an extensive process intact to protect and preserve the environment and our state,” he said in a statement.
The bill passed 216-204 and now moves to the Senate for consideration.