Minnesota voters overwhelmingly oppose new mining near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, according to a new Star Tribune/MPR News Minnesota Poll.
Statewide, 60% of registered Minnesota voters said they oppose building new mines near the federally protected wilderness, while 22% support it.
The level of opposition did not change greatly by region, age, income or education, with opposition ranging from 54% to 69% in different parts of the state. However, there was a sharp divide along party lines. Among Democratic voters, 80% were opposed, while only 37% of Republican voters said they were opposed.
Voters also prioritized the environment when asked if providing jobs or protecting the environment was more important when it comes to mining. Statewide, 66% said the environment was a higher priority, while 19% said jobs were.
That changed only somewhat in northern Minnesota, home to the Boundary Waters and the state's taconite mining industry. There, 60% said the environment was more important, while 23% said jobs were.
The new results come amid an emotionally charged battle in Minnesota over opening the state to nonferrous mining, a type of metals mining that carries much greater pollution risks than taconite and iron ore mining. That's because the precious metals sought are embedded in sulfide-bearing ore, which creates an acid when exposed to air and water that can leach heavy metals and other contaminants.
Of the two copper-nickel mines proposed for Minnesota, one is just outside the Boundary Waters and in the same watershed. That is the underground mine proposed by Twin Metals, a Minnesota company owned by Chilean copper mining giant Antofogasta. The state Department of Natural Resources is reviewing the Twin Metals mine application and is expected to start working soon on an environmental-impact statement.
The poll did not name either project. Becky Rom, national chairwoman of the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters, said the new poll confirms that the majority of Minnesotans want to protect the canoe country wilderness from copper-nickel mining. "The Boundary Waters is our state's crown jewel, a special place to Minnesotans of all ages and backgrounds, and a natural wonder that we want protected now and for our kids, grandkids and those coming after," Rom said. "Those of us who live in the Boundary Waters region acutely recognize that a sulfide-ore copper mining district near the Boundary Waters would be devastating to the wilderness and the wild characteristics that make it so special."
Nancy Norr, chairwoman of Jobs for Minnesotans, which supports copper mining in Minnesota, said the poll results were not a big surprise because of how politically divisive the atmosphere has been in recent years, and because of the "strident" campaigns by opposition groups in the state.
"We have a narrative at Jobs for Minnesotans that we have the ability through science and technology, and responsible regulation, to have not only a quality environment but a prosperous economy," Norr said. "We can have both. We need mining to transform our economy to more of a clean energy economy."