It’s no surprise that the Star Tribune Editorial Board supports U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum’s bill banning copper-nickel mining (“Bill offers vital BWCA protections,” Jan 19).
Unfortunately, McCollum’s bill is a desperate attempt to pre-emptively sidestep rigorous review processes already well-established under federal and state statutes to determine the feasibility and safety of mining projects on public lands. All mining projects in our state — including taconite, iron ore and other extractive industry developments that power our economy and were explicitly left out of this bill — must undergo extensive environmental and feasibility studies. The statutes were enacted to assure a fair, predictable process built on scientific and technical evidence, not the shifting winds of politics.
It makes no sense to argue that legal, science-based studies should be entrusted to determine impacts associated with all types of mining except for copper-nickel. As in every other area of public life, we must follow the rule of law in order for industry and the public to have trust in regulatory outcomes.
While acknowledging existing law prohibits degradation of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, McCollum assumes without evidence that a mine could move forward in violation of those standards. She also concedes that scientific methods exist to determine whether mining would be detrimental to the environment and allows the mining of certain minerals. Yet her bill aims to ban those same methods from being applied to the mining of metals critical to our conversion to a green economy.
McCollum is doing two things with this bill beyond the obvious. On the national level, she is effectively locking the United States out of the nickel industry and handing it over to foreign countries like China. In Minnesota, her bill would effectively deprive schoolchildren of billions of dollars in mining royalties to the Permanent School Trust Fund that helps every school district across the state.
Companies from around the world are investing in Minnesota mineral development. Northeastern Minnesota has among the largest undeveloped deposits of copper, nickel, platinum and cobalt on the planet. In the case of nickel, we have 95% or more of the total U.S. domestic resource. These metals are all essential for a green economy, and we are currently import-dependent for a significant percentage of our needs in every one of these metals. We should be inviting this investment into Minnesota, not chasing it away.
This issue was negotiated and settled when the BWCA was established. What McCollum fails to acknowledge in the proposed legislation is that mining has specifically been outlined as a desired activity in areas of the Superior National Forest, including the proposed Twin Metals mine site and other companies’ deposits, that are well outside the defined footprint and federal buffer zones of the BWCA. Mining is already prohibited within the boundaries and surrounding federal buffer zones of both the BWCA and Voyageurs National Park. The waters of the region are already protected by strict state and federal environmental standards.
For years we have heard that anti-mining groups want a study. Now when there is finally a specific mine plan to study (Twin Metals Minnesota’s), they appear to oppose thorough, science-based environmental impact assessments by federal and state regulatory agencies. Instead, Rep. McCollum has simply proposed a ban.
This proposed permanent mining ban would be a devastating blow to the economic future of northeastern Minnesota, where revenue and taxes generated from a responsible mining industry have supported families and communities for generations. We have the potential to create thousands of great-paying jobs, provided we can satisfy a regulatory process that has solid standards demanding protection of our air and water. We can have both mining and a safe environment. As an industry, all we are asking for is a fair environmental review process. McCollum’s bill is designed to prevent it.
Finally, keep in mind that nonferrous mining is already happening in the Rainy River Watershed just north of the border in Canada. There, they recognize this mining can be done responsibly.
Frank Ongaro is executive director of MiningMinnesota.