Fight over cop­per min­ing in north­ern Min­nesota heats up

Kuwait Times - - BUSINESS -

The fight over whether to al­low cop­per-nickel min­ing near the Bound­ary Wa­ters Ca­noe Area of north­east­ern Min­nesota is shift­ing to the cap­i­tal city as the US For­est Ser­vice opens a new set of pub­lic meet­ings on its pro­posal to bar min­er­als ex­plo­ration and de­vel­op­ment on more than 234,000 acres near the pris­tine wilder­ness for up to 20 years.

The meet­ings this com­ing Tues­day in St. Paul and in the Iron Range city of Vir­ginia on July 25, fol­low one held in Du­luth in March. They’ve al­ready be­come con­tentious. Min­ing sup­port­ers have an­nounced plans to boy­cott the St. Paul meet­ing. They plan a show of force at the Vir­ginia event in­stead.

The pro­posal

The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion an­nounced in De­cem­ber that it would not re­new min­eral rights leases held by Twin Me­tals Min­nesota, deal­ing a po­ten­tially fa­tal blow to the com­pany’s ef­forts to build a large un­der­ground cop­per-nickel mine near Ely. At the same time the In­te­rior and Agri­cul­ture de­part­ments also an­nounced a two-year “time out” to study and en­gage the pub­lic on whether any prospect­ing or min­ing should be per­mit­ted on more than 234,000 acres in the Su­pe­rior Na­tional For­est just out­side the Bound­ary Wa­ters. That land is in a wa­ter­shed that flows into the wilder­ness area, and it in­cludes the Twin Me­tals site. The agen­cies cited the threat of acid mine drainage to the area and its tourism econ­omy.

The meet­ings are part of a pub­lic com­ment process that runs un­til Aug 11. Two decades is the long­est the agen­cies could with­draw the lands from min­eral ex­plo­ration on their own. Congress would have to ap­prove a per­ma­nent set-aside.

The boy­cott

Min­ing sup­port­ers are boy­cotting the St. Paul hear­ing and plan­ning a march to the Vir­ginia meet­ing. The boy­cott is or­ga­nized by la­bor and busi­ness groups that say north­east­ern Min­nesota res­i­dents - not Twin Cities en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists - should have the fi­nal say on what hap­pens in their re­gion. They also say that clos­ing the land to min­ing would cost the state thou­sands of jobs from fu­ture projects, bil­lions of dol­lars in in­vest­ment in north­east­ern Min­nesota and bil­lions in po­ten­tial rev­enues for pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion.

The Save the Bound­ary Wa­ters cam­paign and other min­ing op­po­nents plan to rally be­fore the St. Paul meet­ing.

The trump ad­min­is­tra­tion

While the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has gen­er­ally ex­pressed sup­port for tap­ping nat­u­ral re­sources, it’s pro­ceed­ing with the two-year study for now, and the Jus­tice De­part­ment is seek­ing to dis­miss a law­suit by Twin Me­tals that seeks to force re­newal of its leases.

At a con­gres­sional hear­ing in May, Agri­cul­ture Sec­re­tary Sonny Per­due, who over­sees the For­est Ser­vice, said he and In­te­rior Sec­re­tary Ryan Zinke agreed they would make no de­ci­sion be­fore the study con­cludes.

For­est Ser­vice Chief Tom Tid­well tes­ti­fied the study could con­clude that min­ing up­stream from the wilder­ness “may be too haz­ardous.”

The lo­cal con­gress­man

US Rep Rick Nolan, a Demo­crat who rep­re­sents north­east­ern Min­nesota, is try­ing to get the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion to change course. The Con­gres­sional West­ern Cau­cus has sent a let­ter signed by 26 rep­re­sen­ta­tives to Zinke and Per­due, ask­ing them to re­verse the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s de­ci­sions on both the study and the leases. Nolan said in an in­ter­view that he and GOP Rep. Tom Em­mer of Min­nesota had a “very good con­ver­sa­tion” re­cently with Zinke, and he’s been as­sured of a meet­ing with Per­due. He said Zinke is “very sup­port­ive of min­ing ... pro­vided it’s done in a way that pro­tects the air, the wa­ter, the en­vi­ron­ment and nat­u­ral sur­round­ings.” —AP

In this Oct 4, 2011, file photo, a core sam­ple drilled from un­der­ground rock near Ely, Minn., shows a band of shiny min­er­als con­tain­ing cop­per, nickel and pre­cious me­tals, cen­ter, that Twin Me­tals Min­nesota LLC, hopes to mine near the Bound­ary Wa­ters Ca­noe Area Wilder­ness in north­east­ern Min­nesota. The fight over whether to al­low cop­per-nickel min­ing near the Bound­ary Wa­ters Ca­noe Area of north­east­ern Min­nesota is shift­ing to St. Paul. —AP

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