Minnesota is an amazing state with an abundance of natural resources and one of the best-educated and -motivated workforces in the world. We Minnesotans not only work hard, we play hard. In the Land of 10,000 Lakes, we make the most of everything our state has to offer.
For many Minnesotans, mining has been a way of life since the early 1800s. Although the way we mine has changed dramatically over the years, mining is even more important today to the future of our state and our country. In fact, one of the largest precious-metals deposits in the world has been discovered in Minnesota. This is why it is imperative that we preserve and celebrate mining in our state, not eliminate its future. Unfortunately, this wasn’t always a shared priority with the Obama administration.
When the Superior National Forest was established in 1909 — and later when the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness was established in 1978 — there was an express agreement between the federal government and the state of Minnesota that certain activities like mining and logging could continue in the Superior National Forest. In fact, in the current Superior National Forest Land and Resource Management Plan, exploration and mining are considered a “desired condition.”
Last December, after the election and before the new administration took office, the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management unexpectedly refused to renew Minnesota’s mineral leases and started the process of withdrawing more than 400,000 acres from resource exploration. Considering the timing and the fact that a nearly identical programmatic withdrawal was proposed to the Obama administration just two years earlier but was denied, this 11th-hour action by the last administration was politically motivated and not based on sound policy. If this action is not stopped, it could potentially result in the loss of thousands of jobs — good-paying jobs — and have a devastating impact on northern Minnesota’s local economies.
Thankfully, my colleagues in the U.S. House of Representatives and the Trump administration are committed to reversing this haphazard, overly expansive ban on development. Last week, I testified before the House Natural Resources Committee regarding a discussion draft on the Forest Service’s pending withdrawal application in northern Minnesota. This proposal does not authorize any mining project in the Superior National Forest. It would simply recognize the right of Minnesotans to exercise their mineral rights if any proposed mining can satisfy all of our stringent environmental requirements.
We all believe in preserving and protecting our natural resources, and I have no doubt we can find a way to preserve Minnesota’s pristine landscape without permanently destroying any future job creation or economic development.
To be clear, there is currently no project proposal to mine in the Superior National Forest within the Rainy River watershed. None. Nor does this draft legislation change the law to allow for mining or mineral exploration inside the Boundary Waters Canoe Area or its state and federal buffer zones.
Underground mining can take decades to plan and execute and must be done in accordance with the appropriate environmental and permitting regulations. Our steps today would simply allow for the research and exploration process to proceed.
This process begins with exploration, surveys and feasibility studies — which include environmental-protection measures. If, and only if, preliminary research indicates a mine would be economically viable, the company must still prepare and propose a detailed process for a project that adheres to existing state and federal laws.
After these initial steps are complete, the relevant federal agencies will publish a notice of intent to begin to prepare an environmental-impact statement. This environmental review will require extensive periods of public comment, as well as responses to public comment. Then, there are required waiting periods and more published information before a final decision is ever made. And this does not even detail the processes necessary at the state level.
But wait — there’s more. Even after all this, the project must apply for federal and state permits, which both have separate and additional environmental process reviews and, in many cases, more hearings.
The point I am trying to make to my fellow Minnesotans is that my actions on this issue will not only protect the potential of thousands of jobs as well as the local economies of many small towns on the Iron Range, but also will leave intact an extensive environmental process that will protect and preserve our beloved Boundary Waters.
This is about Minnesota’s right to these mineral leases promised by our federal government decades ago when the Boundary Waters were set aside and preserved.
The secretaries of agriculture and the interior may yet resolve this issue without the need for legislative action. In the meantime, we are doing our job to ensure that Minnesota’s mineral leases will be renewed, that studies can be conducted, and that Minnesotans can ensure the safe, responsible and precise development of all that our great state has to offer.
Because we know that somehow, somewhere, someone will find a way to mine the precious metals in this area in a safe and environmentally responsible way — and when that happens, Minnesota deserves to have that opportunity and the jobs and economic prosperity that will ensue.
Tom Emmer, a Republican, represents Minnesota’s Sixth District in the U.S. House.