BREAKING: Boundary Waters protection bill advances out of key Congressional committee

Jul 13, 2022
Jeremy Drucker


Boundary Waters protection bill advances out of key Congressional committee

Bill would permanently ban sulfide-ore copper mining in the watershed of the Boundary Waters; taconite and iron-ore mining would not be affected

(Ely, MN)--Today the House Natural Resources Committee voted Rep. Betty McCollum's Boundary Waters Protection and Pollution Prevention Act out of committee. The bill permanently protects 234,328 acres of federal land and waters within the Superior National Forest from risky sulfide-ore copper mining. The area protected by the bill is the watershed of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, known as the Rainy River Drainage Basin. The bill does not limit taconite or iron-ore mining anywhere in the State of Minnesota nor does it affect sulfide-ore copper mining projects outside the Rainy River Drainage Basin. It also exempts gravel and other rock quarrying. 

"The Boundary Waters is a national treasure that needs permanent protection from the threat of sulfide-ore copper mining," said Save the Boundary Waters National Chair Becky Rom. "With the vote today we are one step closer to protecting this priceless Wilderness for future generations."

Rep. McCollum's bill would make permanent a potential 20-year mining ban currently under consideration by the U.S. Forest Service and Department of Interior. Late last month The U.S. Forest Service (USFS)  released a draft environmental assessment (EA) for a proposed 20-year ban on sulfide-ore copper mining, called a "mineral withdrawal," on federal lands and minerals in the watershed of the Boundary Waters. A mineral withdrawal for the Boundary Waters watershed was first proposed in 2016; the environmental review process was canceled at the 11th hour by the Trump administration and a draft Environmental Assessment was withheld from Congress, the press, and the American public. In a recent Duluth News Tribune commentary Former US Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell, who recommended the 2016 withdrawal, called the Boundary Waters withdrawal, "the most important," of the four mineral withdrawals he oversaw during his nine-year tenure. In October of 2021 the U.S. Forest Service proposed a new mineral withdrawal for the Boundary Waters watershed. The draft EA released last month provides the scientific basis for that withdrawal to be completed. 

In addition to providing the scientific basis for the 20-year mineral withdrawal, the maximum time allowed by administrative action, the EA provides the foundation for Rep. Betty McCollum's Boundary Waters Protection and Pollution Prevention Act, which would make the withdrawal permanent. According to the Star Tribune, U.S. Senators Tina Smith and Amy Klobuchar were waiting for the release of the study before committing to a Senate companion for Rep. McCollum's legislation. 

In January, the Department of Interior terminated two federal mineral leases for Chilean mining conglomerate Antofagasta's Twin Metals project after determining they had been unlawfully renewed. Antofagasta proposed a massive underground mine on the edge of the Boundary Waters along lakes and streams that flow directly into the Wilderness. Twin Metals and Antofagasta were widely criticized for providing misleading information during a hearing on Rep. McCollum's legislation last month. 

The Boundary Waters is the most heavily visited wilderness area in the United States, attracting more than 160,000 visitors from all over the world and is a major driver of the regional economy, supporting hundreds of businesses and thousands of jobs. A peer-reviewed independent study from Harvard University showed that protection of the Boundary Waters from a proposed Twin Metals sulfide-ore copper mine would result in dramatically more jobs and more income over a 20-year period. Nearly 70 percent of Minnesotans support permanent protection for this priceless Wilderness area.