Campaign Updates

Anti-Boundary Waters legislation update and how we’re fighting back

May 19, 2023
Save the Boundary Waters
Becky Rom at the legislative hearing

Rep. Stauber is fast-tracking legislation to reverse the historic 20-year Boundary Waters protections we received on January 26 this year. Here’s what you need to know.

Two bills introduced by U.S. Rep. Stauber this spring would invite destructive sulfide-ore copper mining in the headwaters of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. This type of mining has never been done in Minnesota and was determined by the Environmental Protection Agency to be America's most toxic industry.

Thank you to the 65 organizations that signed a letter in opposition to this anti-Wilderness legislation. They represent tens of millions of members and supporters from across the country, and signed a letter to the Members of the United State House of Representatives Natural Resources Committee asking that they opposed Rep. Stauber’s bill, H.R. 3195, to overturn Public Land Order.

Read the letter here 

20-year mining ban 

In January of this year, U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Deb Haaland issued a Public Land Order, also known as a “mineral withdrawal,” which bans sulfide-ore copper mining on federal land in the headwaters of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness for 20 years. This was fantastic news for the future of Boundary Waters protections. The Public Land Order came after years of comprehensive scientific analysis by the U.S. Forest Service, concluding that sulfide-ore mining would pollute the Boundary Waters and that pollution could not be fixed or mitigated.

Read more about the 20-year mining ban

Unfortunately, we didn’t celebrate for long. This legally sound, science-based, and popular decision is being attacked by U.S. Representative Pete Stauber, who has introduced both a resolution and a bill, both of which aim to overturn Secretary Haaland’s decision. Stauber’s legislation would result in the Boundary Waters watershed being opened to America’s most toxic industry and setting dangerous precedents for our nation’s cherished places.


The Anti-Boundary Waters Bills

In late April, Rep. Stauber introduced House Concurrent Resolution 34. This resolution would undo the Boundary Waters Mineral Withdrawal under the Federal Land Policy Management Act or FLPMA. This provision is widely considered unconstitutional, as it allows Congress to bypass the president and veto mineral withdrawals on public land. 

In addition to this unconstitutional resolution, Rep. Stauber introduced H.R. 3195, or the “Superior National Forest Restoration Act.” Aside from being a misleading name, this legislation would not only reverse Secretary Haaland’s mineral withdrawal but would also force the government to reissue canceled federal mining leases to companies like Twin Metals, review mining prospecting permits, additional leases, and mine plans on an expedited timeline, and prohibit judicial review of those actions. 

How we are fighting back

Needless to say, the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters is fighting back against these assaults on the Boundary Waters. On May 11, the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources held a hearing on the resolution and the legislation. The Republican majority was allotted three witnesses, while the minority was able to invite one – Save the Boundary Waters’ very own National Campaign Chair Becky Rom. 



Here are some of the “can’t miss” moments from the May 11 hearing:

In her opening remarks, Ranking Member Representative Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) pointed out that even the National Mining Association had argued the unconstitutionality of the FLPMA provision on which Rep. Stauber’s resolution is based:

"Now we are seeing today a proposal to use a clause of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act or the FLPMA, that is widely accepted as unconstitutional to try to overturn the withdrawal… In fact, even the National Mining Association has argued the provision’s unconstitutionality in court”


Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) 

National Campaign Chair Becky Rom spoke about her family history in Ely, Minnesota:

“My grandfather,  Casper Rom, was an immigrant from Eastern Europe who came over in 1892 to work in the iron-ore mines around Ely. And he worked there until he actually was killed in a mine cave-in in 1918. And so my father grew up as his ninth baby without a dad, and in those days there was no safety net from anybody. He went on to form a wilderness canoe outfitting business after he served in the Pacific as a Naval officer in World War II. He wanted to share what he grew up with, with people from all over the world. And he did that. And so I grew up as his daughter, one of his four children, I had three brothers living over his business. It was our life and I experienced meeting thousands of people from all over the country who came back out of the woods from canoe trips telling, wanting to talk about, that life-changing experience they had. 

So I know the mining industry, I grew up with first iron-ore mining and then taconite mining. My uncle Frankie had a sawmill and a chain saw shop, and I started guiding canoe trips when I was 14. I'm now 74. So it's a long time ago. But needless to say, the Boundary Waters is incredibly important, not only to me, but to the American people. And for 120 years, the federal government and the state government have promised the American people. That they would keep it pristine, ecologically healthy, and intact. Not only for us, but for my children and my grandchildren and the children after them.”

Former Minnesota State Senator Tom Bakk was pressed by Representative Occasio-Cortez to be transparent about his current gig as a lobbyist for big tobacco and the very company seeking to mine in the Boundary Waters watershed - Twin Metals.

Representative Jared Huffman (D-CA) remarked:

“This is a unique ecological area that needs to be protected. In this hearing and with some of this legislation, it seems like we're paving new frontiers in gaslighting. We've got a bill called the “Superior Forest Restoration Act”, which has nothing to do with restoring a forest, it's about restoring mining interests in that forest, I mean, give me a break.”

The legislation is being rammed through with barely any notice. Markup for the bill (when the full House Natural Resources Committee offers amendments to the legislation and votes) happened six days later, on May 17. 

Why these attacks matter

When Secretary Deb Haaland issued her Public Land Order, protecting the Boundary Waters from sulfide-ore copper mining for 20 years, wilderness edge communities, business owners, advocates, and others breathed a sigh of deep relief. The shadow of sulfide-ore copper mining has hung over the Boundary Waters for too long. Finally, the science, the law, and the public sentiment had come together to inform the Secretary’s actions - the most significant actions to protect the Boundary Waters in 45 years.

Are Rep. Stauber’s bills likely to pass into law right now? No. But a critical part of advocating for the Boundary Waters is making your voice heard when the wilderness, its protections, and the science, law, and will of the people upon which its protections are based are under attack. This legislation, were it to gain any ground, would not only threaten all of these things but set a dangerous precedent for protecting our nation’s special places moving forward.

If we don’t show up in Washington, D.C., or don’t call our elected officials to tell them why the Boundary Waters and the mineral withdrawal are worth protecting, then no one will. When you support Save the Boundary Waters with your voice, your dollars, or your time, you ensure that the Boundary Waters has a voice on the national stage and that misinformation and attempts to destroy America’s most visited Wilderness area are stopped in their tracks.