Congress will soon have dueling mining measures from Minnesota — one aimed at keeping copper mining out of Superior National Forest near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and another aimed at ensuring it gets in.
The "Saving America's Mines Act" introduced Monday by U.S. Rep. Pete Stauber would require an act of Congress to halt mining on federal lands where it's currently allowed, and prevent administrations from making that call on their own. Stauber, a Republican from Hermantown, made it clear the act is about keeping Superior National Forest open for the Twin Metals copper-nickel mine that Chilean mining conglomerate Antofagasta wants to build near Ely, just outside the national wilderness.
U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum, a St. Paul Democrat, is expected soon to reintroduce her proposed ban on copper mining in the Minnesota portion of the Rainy River Watershed draining into the Boundary Waters. That measure would halt Twin Metals.
Twin Metals is one of two copper-nickel mines foreign mining companies want to build in northern Minnesota. They would be the first non-iron, hard rock mine operations in the state, and the advance of the more environmentally risky type of mining has been bitterly debated for years on the Iron Range and off.
Twin Metals has just started the long permitting process. The PolyMet project, a copper-nickel mine that Swiss-based Glencore wants to build farther south near Babbitt and Hoyt Lakes, is much further along. It's been delayed, however, by challenges of key permits.
In a Star Tribune/MPR News Minnesota Poll last year, 60% of Minnesota voters said they oppose new mining near the federally protected Boundary Waters wilderness while only 22% said they support it.
In a statement Monday, Stauber noted that President Joe Biden was vice president under former President Barack Obama, whose administration decided to prohibit mining in the Superior National Forest as too risky. Stauber called that decision "politically motivated."
The Obama-era decision was overturned by the Trump administration, a decision Stauber called simply a reversal.
The other three Republicans in Minnesota's delegation — Reps. Jim Hagedorn, Tom Emmer and Michelle Fischbach — all said they support Stauber's measure as crucial to the Iron Range economy.
"America needs the copper, nickel, cobalt, platinum-group elements that exist on our lands for infrastructure, modern energy technology, national defense, and for applications in our everyday life like cellphones, refrigerators, and batteries," Stauber said in his statement.
Key Minnesota environmental groups fighting Twin Metals issued statements accusing Stauber and Trump of catering to foreign mining interests.
"The truth is no one injected more politics into the issue of Boundary Waters protection than Pete Stauber and former President Trump," said Tom Landwehr, executive director of the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters.
A measure in the Minnesota Legislature is also aimed at slowing hard rock, or non-iron ore mining. The "Prove It First" initiative, backed by the Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness, would impose a moratorium on such mining anywhere in Minnesota. To proceed, regulators would have to provide scientific evidence that a similar mine that operated for at least a decade, and that has been closed for at least as long, did not pollute the environment.
Jennifer Bjorhus • 612-673-4683