WASHINGTON – U.S. Rep. Tom Emmer is pushing legislation that would ban the U.S. Forest Service from withdrawing mining rights in Minnesota without congressional approval.
The move comes in response to the Obama administration’s 11th-hour decision not to renew mining leases for Twin Metals in northeastern Minnesota. The U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management also instituted a two-year moratorium on mining exploration while an environmental review is conducted.
“This unexpected action during the waning days of the last administration is clearly politically motivated and not based on sound policy,” Emmer, a Republican, testified before the House Natural Resources Committee on Thursday. “We have an opportunity to fix this.”
Emmer stressed that the legislation simply allows people to exercise their mineral rights, and that all projects are still subject to stringent state and federal reviews and requirements. He added that the measure protects thousands of jobs and the economies of small towns in Minnesota.
“This proposed withdrawal commenced [by the Obama administration] would impose a haphazard, overly expansive ban before any project could even be considered,” said Emmer. “Underground mining can take decades to plan and execute. ... Our steps today would simply allow for research and exploration to proceed.”
Nancy Norr, chairwoman of Jobs Minnesota, estimated that new mining projects in the proposed mining withdrawal areas could generate $1.5 billion a year in annual wages. The measure “provides hope and opportunity for Minnesota’s mining region,” she said.
The legislation is clear that no prospecting or mining would be permitted in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness or Mine Protection Area.
U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum, a Democrat, wrote a letter to the panel opposing the proposal. “As members of Congress, we have an obligation to be good stewards of our nation’s national resources,” she wrote. “It would be a grave mistake to allow dangerous mining to take place on the edge of the Boundary Waters, one of the last wild places of our country.”
McCollum added that the legislation short-circuits a careful environmental review process and attacks existing environmental and public lands laws.
Environmental groups, including the Sierra Club, have also spoken against the measure.