On a recent trip to Minnesota, I had the opportunity to meet face-to-face with our customers, the farmers, producers and folks who use our public lands. It was clear how much Minnesotans love their state, especially the Boundary Waters. It is understandable that folks are paying close attention to possible mineral development in the area (“Secrecy on mining,” editorial, Aug. 7).
The Boundary Waters offer a one-of-a-kind experience, which is why you want to ensure that your children and grandchildren can experience this beautiful natural resource for generations to come.
I want to set the record straight regarding the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) commitment to responsibly steward Minnesota’s Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. Conservation and economic development are not mutually exclusive. The two can coexist, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture has a role in that balance by upholding our commitment to be good caretakers of the land and creating opportunities for local economies in rural America.
In the waning days of 2016, the Obama administration made a political decision to rush through paperwork, throw out precedent and ignore the voice of congressional representation in the area by unilaterally adding lengthy, duplicative steps to circumvent the traditional rigorous environmental impact study. The goal of that decision was to stop any mining altogether, halting the precedent of environmental impact studies and precluding any future decision from being based upon sound science.
Even Minnesota’s own Sen. Amy Klobuchar was floored over the decision, saying, “It should have been handled through the normal process. It wasn’t. … I am not for or against this project but I just wanted a fair process based on science that told us the truth. That is not how this feels.”
Minnesotans deserve better. You deserve a process consistent with the law and that is applied elsewhere in the country.
As secretary of agriculture, it’s my job to listen to the voice of rural America. And when others are forcing a big-city perspective, it’s my job to be in tune with what’s on the minds of Americans in our rural communities. That is why we support all the environmental studies of mineral leasing and development that have been done and will be done by the Department of the Interior’s (DOI) Bureau of Land Management, a fair process consistent with how the federal government analyzes environmental impacts across the country. Going through the normal process, we can balance protecting our environment with economic opportunity for Minnesota.
Approaching this issue on a case-by-case and local basis, rather than mandating an inflexible 20-year prohibition, meets both the economic and environmental needs of Minnesota’s rural communities. Mineral exploration creates stable jobs in local communities, and the minerals produced from lands managed by the USDA Forest Service are critical to a variety of applications and technology — from medical and infrastructure applications to household appliances, smart phones, computers and cars.
Should the Bureau of Land Management lease and allow development of minerals underlying National Forest System land, existing regulations provide necessary safeguards to protect the watershed. The USDA would have a say on appropriate lease terms, conditions and stipulations. This means any mine-operating plans would undergo close review by the DOI and USDA. I’m confident any plan approved to move forward would preserve the high-quality fishing, wildlife viewing, recreational opportunities and wilderness character that Minnesotans and visitors from around the world enjoy in the Boundary Waters.
The USDA remains committed to ensuring that the Boundary Waters retains its natural beauty and recreational benefit. At the same time, additional economic opportunities generated by mineral exploration and development outside of the Boundary Waters can create jobs and increase wealth for Minnesota communities. When we follow the science in the normal manner, all individuals with a stake in the area have opportunities for their voices to be heard. This includes those who recreate with their families on the land as well as the workers who support their families by utilizing our nation’s abundant natural resources.
At the USDA, we are returning to the scientific, fair, consistent and legal process that has guided our land-use agreements for the last 100 years — not the unfair political process in the final days of the prior administration that left the voice of some Minnesotans forgotten.
Sonny Perdue is U.S. secretary of agriculture.