Sixty Pages Redacted from Environmental Study

Mar 6, 2020
Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters
Photo of Rep. McCollum holding up blacked out pages

Last week, U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum stood in a congressional hearing and showed the almost completely redacted report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. This report was supposed to show the findings of a (now-cancelled) two-year-long, unfinished study on the risks of sulfide-ore copper mining near Minnesota’s Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. 

60 blacked-out pages...

“Would you say that this level of redaction to a Forest Service study is normal? To have something that is so redacted?”

Congresswoman Betty McCollum has repeatedly asked for this information and even included report language in the Interior-Environment funding bill at the end of December to get the study finished and released. That language was aggressively stripped out of the final bill by the White House.

Everything except for the cover has been completely redacted. The scientific findings of this study are being kept from Elected Officials and the general public. We the taxpayers deserve to see the findings of this study. We deserve to know the real cost of putting a copper mine right next to America’s most visited Wilderness.

You can find the document here.


Timeline of study:
Obama Administration denied mineral leases and started a two-year study.

In December 2016, after a years-long consideration of the risks involved with sulfide-ore copper mining, the U.S. Forest Service sent a 21-page carefully-reasoned letter to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM), announcing that the Forest Service would not consent to renewal of two expiring federal mineral leases held by Antofagasta’s subsidiary, Twin Metals. The next day, the BLM rejected Twin Metals’ lease renewal applications. Also the next day, the BLM and Forest Service announced that a 20-year ban on mineral leasing and exploration permits in the Boundary Waters watershed would be considered and studied.

Shortly thereafter, the Forest Service, with assistance from the BLM, launched an environmental review that would last two years. This study was designed to analyze the environmental, economic, and social impacts of the proposed 20-year mineral leasing and exploration moratorium, and to consider the risks that sulfide-ore copper mining would pose for the region if the moratorium were not adopted. The environmental review study initially announced as an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) but later downgraded to an Environmental Assessment (EA), is required under the federal law known as the Federal Land Policy Management Act (FLPMA).  The study’s purpose was to inform and guide the Secretary of the Interior’s decision on whether to order the requested 20-year mineral leasing ban. 

Study Abruptly Cancelled

In September 2018, 20 months into the two-year study, the Secretary of the Department of Agriculture, which includes the Forest Service, abruptly revoked the Forest Service’s request for a 20-year mineral leasing ban and cancelled the nearly-complete environmental review. The Department of Agriculture’s explanation was that no new science had been found during the first 20 months of the study.  This was not only untrue (dozens of new scientific reports and papers had been delivered to the agencies during the study), but even it had been true, it would have supported the Forest Service’s original decision - that sulfide-ore copper mining carries an unacceptable risk of causing irreparable harm to the Superior National Forest and the Boundary Waters.

Since the study’s cancellation, the Forest Service and the Department of Agriculture have refused to share the study’s reports with the public. The federal agencies have even ignored written and in-person requests from Congress. Only a federal lawsuit by The Wilderness Society’s 2019 under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) caused federal agencies to release the report. Before doing so, however, the agencies blacked-out the entire report except for the cover page. 

Leases Renewed

By May 2nd, 2019, the BLM had reinstated and renewed the terminated leases. It did so after releasing a sham of an environmental review document -- an EA -- that ignored the negative environmental, economic, and social impacts of renewing leases whose only purpose is to enable the same dangerous sulfide-ore copper mining that the Forest Service had already rejected.  

Sulfide-ore copper mining risks the destruction of land and forest, and the permanent pollution of the lakes, rivers of America’s canoe country.  We must prevent sulfide-ore copper mining if we are to protect the Boundary Waters for future generations. 

Betty’s Bill

On January 15, 2020, Congresswoman McCollum introduced HR 5598. This bill would protect the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, Quetico Provincial Park, and Voyageurs National Park by putting federal lands in the Boundary Waters watershed off-limits to sulfide-ore copper mining. 

Tell your representative today to co-sponsor HR 5598, a bill to protect the Boundary Waters!

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