H.R. 3905 is a dangerous bill proposed by Tom Emmer. What follows is a short summary of the bill to help you better understand what this legislation means for Minnesota. H.R. 3905 was introduced on October 5, 2017 by Rep. Tom Emmer (R-MN), and if passed it would eliminate environmental laws and overturn science-based decisions that currently protect the Boundary Waters and the Superior and Chippewa National Forests.
Effects of H.R. 3905:
H.R. 3905 would automatically grant Twin Metals Minnesota LLC (a wholly-owned subsidiary of Chilean copper mining company, Antofagasta) two federal mineral leases covering 5,000 acres of Superior National Forest lands. The leases would cover lands along and underneath rivers and lakes that flow into the Wilderness. Last December, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) rejected a request to renew the two leases after the U.S. Forest Service withheld its consent to renewal. Peer-reviewed science published early in 2016 concluded that under ordinary operating conditions, sulfide-ore copper mining in the watershed would pollute the Boundary Waters.
H.R. 3905 would undermine the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) by eliminating NEPA’s requirement of environmental review before any decision is made to renew federal mineral leases in the watershed of a National Wilderness Area. Ordinarily, a federal proposal to renew a federal mineral lease is categorically excluded from NEPA’s environmental review requirement. There is an exception, however, that applies if the proposal to renew federal mineral leases might affect a federally-designated Wilderness Area. The U.S. Forest Service cited the risk to the Boundary Waters when it declined to consent to renewal of Twin Metals’ leases last year, and peer-reviewed published science makes clear that the Twin Metals leases, if renewed, pose an inherent risk of toxic pollution to the Boundary Waters. Therefore, any renewal of Twin Metals now-expired leases would have to undergo a full Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) as required under NEPA. The passage of H.R. 3905 would grant the Twin Metals mining leases without the required EIS under NEPA and without an opportunity for public input. Instead, H.R. 3905 directs there be a 30-day environmental assessment (EA) before automatically granting lease renewals. An EA is not an EIS; 30 days is not enough time to do an environmental review; and NEPA requires environmental review to inform a later decision, meaning a foregone conclusion to grant leases regardless of the environmental review is totally contrary to NEPA.
H.R. 3905 would void the U.S. Forest Service’s Record of Decision (ROD), which explains the facts, science, and public input on which the Forest Service based its decision not to give consent to renewal of Twin Metals’ mineral leases. In the ROD, the Forest Service explained that after reviewing the facts, science, and public input including meetings with elected officials around the state, it would not consent to renewal of the leases due to the inherent risk that sulfide-ore copper mining would cause serious pollution to the Boundary Waters -- pollution that could not be prevented or mitigated. The Forest Service further explained that it is obligated by the 1978 BWCA Wilderness Act to manage the Superior National Forest protect the waters of the Boundary Waters, and that that requires protecting waters that flow into the Wilderness.
H.R. 3905 would make all mineral leases issued in the Superior and Chippewa National Forests in Minnesota perpetually renewable. The bill mandates an initial 20-year lease term with automatic 10-year renewals in perpetuity. This would eliminate the consent rights of the Forest Service for lease renewals, the discretionary authority of the BLM, and NEPA’s requirement for open scientific analysis and public input.
The bill would override the 1946 and 1950 laws that make clear that no federal minerals can be leased in the Superior and Chippewa National Forests without the consent of the U.S. Department of Agriculture - Forest Service. The 1950 law requiring consent applies to public domain lands (those that have been in U.S. ownership since 1854), and the 1946 mineral law applies to acquired lands. Public domain lands constitute 90% of relevant Superior National Forest lands. Acquired lands, which were purchased for watershed and timber supply protection, make up the remainder. Both laws make clear that federal mineral leases can only be granted if the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture consents to the leasing. The 1946 Act directs that mineral leasing on acquired lands can only occur if the Secretary of Agriculture advises the Secretary of the Interior, “that such development will not interfere with the primary purposes for which the land was acquired and only in accordance with such conditions as may be specified by the Secretary of Agriculture in order to protect such purposes.” H.R. 3905 overrides the 1946 law because it is clear that sulfide-ore copper mining would interfere with watershed protection.
The bill would amend the 1906 Antiquities Act by mandating Congressional approval for any national monument designations in the Superior and Chippewa National Forests. The Antiquities Act of 1906 gives the President of the United States the power to establish National Monuments, a power that has been used by Democratic and Republican presidents alike over the past 110 years. H.R. 3905 strips the President’s authority so that it no longer applies to Minnesota. This is a very dangerous precedent, that, if passed, would place Minnesota beneath all other states, would weaken the Presidency, and could lead to the state-by-state gutting of the Antiquities Act.
The bill would amend the 1976 Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA) by mandating Congressional approval for mineral withdrawals in the Superior and Chippewa National Forests. The Forest Service, in consultation with the BLM, is in the process of conducting a two-year study on a possible federal mineral “withdrawal.” The withdrawal would put 234,328 acres of federal land located on the Superior National Forest and within the Boundary Waters watershed, off-limits to new mineral leasing and exploration permits for up to 20 years. Current law, in FLPMA, empowers the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Interior to order a withdrawal of federal land for up to 20 years. H.R. 3905 would strip the Secretary of his power to order a federal withdrawal in Minnesota. Instead, any proposed withdrawal by the Secretary of Interior on federal lands in Minnesota would also require Congressional approval.
H.R. 3905 would bar the Forest Service from complying with the 1978 Boundary Waters Wilderness Act. Congress directed the Forest Service to maintain the high water quality of the Boundary Waters and a Mining Protection Area within the Superior National Forest. The Forest Service concluded that consenting to mineral lease requests by Twin Metals would be “contrary to Congress’ determination that it is necessary to ‘protect the special qualities of the [BWCAW] as a natural forest-lakeland wilderness ecosystem of major esthetic, scientific, recreational and educational value to the Nation.”
This bill puts the fate of the Boundary Waters in the hands of a Chilean mining conglomerate, Antofagasta, which owns Twin Metals Minnesota LLC. Antofagasta has a devastating record of environmental pollution at its South American copper mines,including a $23 million fine for water pollution at its flagship copper mine in Chile’s Atacama desert (one of the driest locations on Earth). Antofagasta also has a history of labor strife, and of taking more water than permitted. Andronico Luksic - the head of Chile’s wealthiest family and owner of the Luksic Group, which controls Antofagasta - has a documented history of doing big-money favors for Presidential family members in Chile and the U.S. Neither Antofagasta nor its subsidiaries has ever operated a copper mine in a water-rich place such as the Superior National Forest. The mines that Antofagasta/Twin Metals wants to build would be in the headwaters of the Boundary Waters, the only significant lakeland Wilderness Area and the most visited Wilderness in America.