WASHINGTON – The meeting Monday of officials from a Chilean mining company and Rep. Betty McCollum of Minnesota was civil but uneventful.
Officials from the Antofagasta PLC still plan to mine for sulfide-ore copper on federal land near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. McCollum still hopes to pass a law that will require an environmental review that seems likely to stop them.
Antofagasta, which does business as Twin Metals in Minnesota, also met with other members of the state’s congressional delegation this week, including Rep. Rick Nolan, in whose district the mining project would produce jobs.
The amount of risk that mining poses to one of Minnesota’s most significant natural resources remains in dispute.
Antofagasta holds mineral prospecting leases in northern Minnesota from the U.S. Bureau of Land Management that date to 1966 and have been renewed since then. Those leases are again up for renewal, and a struggle within the delegation has broken out around them.
As McCollum pushes a bill to kill the leases and urges the Obama administration to deny renewal, fellow Democrat Nolan says current review criteria are adequate and exacts promises from federal officials not to interfere.
In a statement after her meeting with Antofagasta, McCollum said she “appreciated the opportunity to meet with executives … and explain my strong opposition to sulfide-ore copper mining in the Rainy River Drainage Basin. The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and Voyageurs National Park are federal lands that must be protected. There is no evidence that sulfide-ore copper mining can be conducted in this area without permanently damaging these national treasures.”
McCollum will keep pushing her legislative proposal to restrict mining on federal land and will continue to “urge the Obama administration to prevent sulfide-ore copper mining in this area [of Minnesota].”
A Nolan spokeswoman said the congressman “believes we should wait until the mine plan of operation has been submitted before pre-emptively stopping the possibility of new mining on the Iron Range.” In his weekly newsletter to constituents, Nolan said “allowing mining to move forward is critical as the Range begins its long economic recovery from illegal foreign steel imports that have put nearly 2,000 miners out of work over the past year.”
Gov. Mark Dayton has told federal officials that he opposes the Antofagasta/Twin Metals project and will not allow mining on state land near the Boundary Waters.
Along with McCollum and Nolan, Antofagasta officials also met with the staff of Sen. Al Franken, another Democrat.
In a statement Tuesday to the Star Tribune, Franken urged “a rigorous environmental review process” for any mining operation that occurs near the Boundary Waters.
Bob McFarlin of Twin Metals was a participant in the meetings and said they included “a number of stakeholders in D.C.” and were intended to “make introductions not previously made, provide general information on the current status of the Twin Metals project, and discuss various federal mining issues.”