Monday, January 27, 2020
Posted by
Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters

What Rep. McCollum’s bill H.R.5598 would do to protect the Boundary Waters

On January 15, MN Rep. Betty McCollum introduced a bill entitled “The Boundary Waters Wilderness Protection and Pollution Prevention Act” in the U.S. House of Representatives (all bills are given a “House Resolution” number for easier tracking, and this one is H.R.5598). We are immensely thankful for the leadership demonstrated here by Rep. McCollum. You can find her summary of the bill here.

The intent of the bill is really quite simple - it is intended to prevent sulfide-ore copper mining of federal lands in the Rainy River Headwaters watershed which drains into the BWCAW (see map below) and Voyageurs National Park. The bureaucratic term that is used is “withdrawal”; this essentially means the federal government removes these public lands from potential leasing for mining activities.  Withdrawals can be implemented by Congressional action (as this would do) or by administrative action by the Forest Service after a public review process. The withdrawal would not restrict mining for iron ore, taconite, sand and gravel or granite.

The bill’s proposed withdrawal area of the Rainy River Headwaters watershed is 234,328 acres - and is the same area as was proposed for administrative withdrawal by former US Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell in 2016. In order to abide by the law for withdrawing these lands, the US Forest Service initiated a 2-year study in 2017.  It was abruptly halted by the Trump administration 4 months prior to completion, with the claim that “no new information” was being discovered. The administration has refused to release the draft reports, which we strongly believe clearly find that mining is incompatible.

Rep. McCollum, and other House leaders had asked to have the draft withdrawal study released to Congress, and the administration refused to comply.  As the administration continued to stonewall, while simultaneously moving the project forward, it became apparent that the only way to protect the Boundary Waters and Voyaguers National Park is a permanent and complete mineral withdrawal. Hence, Rep. McCollum was compelled to draft and introduce H.R.5598.

In addition to Rep. McCollum as the chief author, the bill had bipartisan support as cosponsors.  These included: Reps. Dean Phillips (D-MN), Francis Rooney (R-FL), Fred Upton (R-MI), Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) and Alan Lowenthal (D-CA), with additional sponsors joining every day. The bill will now be heard in the House Natural Resources Committee on Feb. 5, 2020.  Rep. Raul Grijalva, the chair of that committee, is very interested in moving this bill through the House. That could happen before summer.

Here are 5 ways you can help protect the Boundary Waters:

  1. Contact your US Representative and ask them to sign onto Rep. McCollum’s bill - H.R.5598.

  2. Contact your US Senators (even if you don’t live in MN!) and ask them to support a companion bill in the Senate.

  3. Make sure you’ve signed our petition, and encourage your family and friends to do the same.

  4. Donate! It takes a lot of resources to fight this toxic mine.

  5. Stay engaged - follow us on social media (FB, Twitter, and Instagram), and keep up to date on what’s happening.