Despite a shortened public comment period, technical glitches, and a month-long government shutdown, nearly 100,000 comments opposing Twin Metals lease renewals were submitted to the Department of Interior. While the renewal process unlawfully engineered by the Department of the Interior all but guarantees Chilean mining conglomerate Antofagasta’s Twin Metals Project will continue to be fast-tracked through the environmental review process, the public outcry remains loud. The leases for dangerous mining near America’s most popular Wilderness were previously terminated before being resurrected by the Trump Administration.
In total 94,387 citizens submitted comments opposing the lease renewals.
“The American people are outraged by this project and this process,” said Jon Nelson of Duluth, co-chair of the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters. “The Boundary Waters are a priceless natural wonder and economic engine for Northeastern Minnesota, and the public will not stand by silently while the current administration rushes forward to put irreplaceable Wilderness at risk.”
Over the last two years the Department of the Interior has worked hand-in-hand with Antofagasta and the mining industry to push through approvals for sulfide-ore mineral leases on the doorstep of Minnesota’s Boundary Waters Wilderness.
The nearly 100,000 comments were the result of a public awareness push by a coalition of organizations including the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters, Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, National Wildlife Federation, Sportsmen for the Boundary Waters, The Wilderness Society, and others.
During previous public comment periods related to this project large numbers of Americans also spoke out in favor of protecting the Wilderness.
Let me tell you we’re in a unique period of time, the shear number of battles are staggering. Frankly, I’ve found it difficult to keep up. Then I took notice of an issue that brought me to a halt. Ironically I didn’t have to travel far at all to find it; it was right in my own backyard. I’ve logged over 200,000 thousand adventurous miles throughout this country and it was the fight for the Boundary Waters of Northern Minnesota that stopped me in my tracks. This place is dear to my heart, it was there that I camped for the first time and learned the power of solitude wilderness could provide. Right now a foreign mining company has focused in on the northern Minnesota watershed and this administration has given them the greenlight. If it proceeds, the consequences for the region as a whole could be disastrous. I knew I had to force myself to try and find the other perspective. So I went to Washington to search for it. I sought to listen without bias and an open mind. I did just that. Yet, the more I learned the more troubled I became. I left the capitol with my knowledge solidified and a conclusion of great confidence. If unimpeded, a pristine landscape will be destroyed; a precious natural resource tarnished and generations of livelihoods jeopardized. The precedent created will extend far beyond the borders of the Boundary Waters, giving a terrifying glimpse of what our beloved wild spaces across the country face in the future. What’s occurring in Northern Minnesota is a level of blatant negligence which till now, I had yet to witness and we need to take notice.
If you’re not familiar with The Boundary Waters, here’s what you need to know. The area entails 1.1 million acres of interconnected waterways located in the northern third of the Superior National forest. It’s nearly 2,000 pristine lakes made it one of the first wilderness areas to be stringently protected under The Wilderness Act and sees around 250,000 visitors a year, making it the most visited wilderness area in the country. This is water so pure I’m more than comfortable paddling into the lake’s center and guzzling it down. The proposed sulfide-ore copper mining operation wouldn’t just create the risk of all that untainted water being destroyed, it would virtually guarantee it. Even compared to the destructive mining industry as a whole, sulfide-ore copper mining takes the cake when it comes to environmental risks. A 2012 Earthworks study found that of the fourteen sulfide-ore copper mines representing 89% of U.S copper production, 100% of the mines had experienced pipeline spills or other accidental releases. In addition, 92% (13/14) had experienced water collection and treatment failures resulting in significant effects on water quality. That’s a huge problem when your mine is sitting right at the edge of a massive series of interconnected waterways. Figuring out that mining is going to harm the nearby ecosystem though is hardly an epiphany. It takes a few minutes of research to realize a spill can and will happen. The Boundary Waters is hardly the only ecosystem this administration has put in it’s crosshairs. I don’t just worry about the environment though and that’s what makes this issue different. This is equally a fight for the people of northern Minnesota and future generations to come.
When I’m on the road, our stays are quick and the amount of time required to fully investigate the issues is often hard to come by. So I’ve learned to defer to the experts. A practice this administration seems determined to forgo. Environmental issues seem to boil down to nature’s preservation vs. economic growth. That shouldn’t be overlooked. In that growth can be the requirement of fathers and mothers working in order to provide for their families. I understand and I care deeply about that. So that’s where I looked first. What’s at stake for the communities that call this place home? A 2018 independent study by prominent Harvard economists stated that leaving the Boundary Waters economy untouched would result in continued growth, greater long-term gain for the region both in employment and income compared to if mining were to take place. If you’re into numbers, we’re talking 1,500-4,600 more jobs and anywhere from 100 million to 900 million more in income. This study, like numerous others conducted, is incredibly thorough but it’s conclusion is simple and understandable. Mining creates a boom and bust economy. The mining will boom and jobs will be created. The mine will eventually die and not only will those jobs go with it leaving the local economy worse off than before. In the Boundary Waters these consequences will be amplified. When you’re home to the most visited wilderness area in the country, you’re also home to a growing eco-tourism industry. Once that water is tainted, so is the tourism industry. I drove through Moab, Utah recently and saw it as a fitting example. Moab today is known to many as the outdoor recreational capital of the world. However, in the 1950’s it was known as the “Uranium Capital of the World.” The mines of Moab boomed and then, yep, they busted. That’s when tourism began to take off along with the economy. Moab though is dry and unfortunately that scenario is impossible in the Boundary Waters. Once the mine is activated, the pristine waters that generate the ecotourism economy will be tainted and when dealing with water, there’s no way to bury the evidence. That’s all coming from the experts, but I have a pair of eyes too.
The majority of those 200,000 miles I’ve logged have taken me through small towns and rural America. I’ve absorbed the scenes along the way and noticed common threads as I’ve rolled along. I’ve driven through so many mining towns I’ve lost count. I can count on one hand how many of those towns appear to still be active and of those, never once have I seen signs of enduring prosperity.
It’s a fact that living in rural America is becoming increasingly challenging. Jobs are increasingly moving to urban areas and have been for some time. There’s no way around it. I understand how that can make the prospect of bringing in a mining operation even more appealing. But I view this as a classic case of: would you rather have someone catch your fish for a month or learn to fish and feed yourself for a lifetime? The quid pro quo with the first option, after they catch your fish, they’ll destroy the water and even if you wanted you’re not becoming an angler anytime soon. It’s easy to study an issue such as this and feel as if maybe they know something you don’t. Let me tell you, each and every interaction I experienced in Washington, put that notion to bed. The government is gambling. They’re going all in on a foreign mining company and using the future of the next generations as collateral.
The group I accompanied to the capitol is named “Kid’s for the Boundary Waters” and boy are they inspiring. Forty teenagers from across the country and even one young man from Peru. He, too, didn’t need more than the eye test to understand the harm potentially taking place in the Boundary Waters. His native town sat on the outskirts of one of Peru’s incredible national parks. As he grew up he watched mining take over his community. His friends and neighbors became sick; the landscape he loved was reduced to smoke and soot. His story was one of many I found tugged on my heart strings. Every teenager had a testimony showing how deeply they cared for the wilderness and how impactful it had been on their life. One girl lost her mother and uncle in a plane crash on their way to Canada. Miraculously she and her sister survived, but she sustained severe burns that covered her body. Her recovery took months. In the midst of her grief she found peace and strength by attending a camp near the outskirts on the Boundary Waters. Her strength and the strength of the others who shared their stories, left me in awe. It was beyond powerful. As I listened and watched the conversation unfold, I felt this startling sense of backwards irony come over me. I listened to a group of teenagers argue for foresight and request that fact and science preside over any decisions made. Meanwhile a distinguished group of men and women in positions of power attempted to justify the route of instant gratification and worry about the consequences later. Please inform me on scenarios where that has panned out.
After hearing her testimony and a dozen more, one senior official said, “Thank you for sharing. We brought a bunch of cookies for you.” Those were the words of David Bernhardt, a former big oil lobbyist who after looming ethics violations kicked out his predecessor, heads into the new year as the Acting Secretary of the Interior. I was shocked, yet sadly, not surprised. A common thread had been established. Those pushing the mining proposition have made it clear. Foresight has no place in their motives. If future generations suffer the consequences of their actions, they won’t be around to care. There’s another facet to this when it comes to impacting future generations and this one extends far beyond the borders of the Boundary Waters. The Boundary Waters holds around 22% of the freshwater found in our entire national forest system. We’re not short on copper and it can be found elsewhere. As much as this administration attempts to deny climate change, it’s impacts are impossible to overlook. Every day we need water and our worlds once abundant supply is dwindling.
Maybe this is a generational gap, I’m really not sure, but dealing with our countries water supply are issues my generation is beginning to be faced with. As I write this I’m driving through the heart of central California, an area responsible for a large portion of the agriculture consumed in our country. Everywhere I look I see posters placed by farmers, pleading for water. Their problem is our problem. If I had a red flag I’d wave it till my arms tired: a huge slice of our most precious natural resource is being rendered unusable! That knowledge alone should produce enough rational to halt the mining operation. I’m writing this because it hasn’t. At this point, you may be wondering how could the federal government move forward? They’re more than aware of everything I’ve stated and due to how ludicrous the notion of mining near this watershed has be proven to be, they’ve been left with essentially one option. If they want to get away with it, they’ll have to do it in broad daylight and they’ll have to negligently suppress science and reason in the process. That’s exactly what they’re doing.
These mining risks have been known for quite some time and the alarm bells have rung for years. In fact, in 2016 the National Forest Service conducted a study to determine the environmental risks mining posed to the area. They concluded that mining would be downright unacceptable and cited the irreparable harm it would cause to the wilderness. In addition, there was a comment period designed for the public to weigh in. Over 181,000 citizens voiced their opinions. 98% voiced opposition to the prospect of mining. Science and the people had spoken. To further ensure the protection of the Boundary Waters and its natural resources, an additional step had to take place. A two-year environmental assessment study would determine appropriate measures to protect the wilderness, potentially placing a twenty-year ban on mining in the area. The situation was decently transparent. The first study showed no mining can safely take place; the second would state for how long. It appeared simple. However, those such as Minnesota Congresswoman Betty McCollum were still not satisfied. She, like many others, sought confirmation that the forest service and department of agriculture would simply keep their word and not interfere with the environmental assessment. In a meeting with Agriculture Secretary Perdue, McCollum received confirmation in a very candid way. Perdue stated, “ I’m not smart enough to know to do without the facts base and the sound science and we are absolutely allowing that to proceed.” But then things took an abrupt and troubling turn.
Fifteen months into the twenty-four-month study Perdue abruptly cancelled the research and simultaneously opened the area up to mining, citing no new scientific information was revealed. Two major flaws with that statement, you’re trying to tell me you studied this for over a year and found nothing new whatsoever? I find it hard to believe a 15-month investigation found nothing new. Highly doubtful. Okay then, let’s say you’re being truthful. If no new science was revealed then the information received from the 2016 study would be the science you would use to make your decision, which based on that studies conclusion, no mining would take place right? Crickets. If you feel this is a tad difficult to understand, you’re correct. It makes no sense. The next natural reaction was, we’re going to need to see these studies. No can do, they’re being withheld from the public. Reading between the lines, it’s easy to determine this study produced enough damming scientific evidence that if revealed, would make mining near the boundary waters impossible. So they shut it down, shut out the public then took science along with fact and buried it without explanation. Meanwhile as everyone scrambles to figure out what happened, a Chilean mining company is closer and closer to setting up shop.
I left Washington with the images of those kids circulating through my mind; their words played in my ears on repeat. I speak for a living and yet had absolutely no idea what to say to them. They had just learned a frightening reality: that evidence and fact don’t serve a place in decision making and will always take a back seat to greed. That even when others throughout history have deemed something untouchable, their water and wilderness will always have a price tag. Worst of all they learned in Washington, the word of men and women in power is seemingly worthless. We can’t live with that. I don’t know the motivation behind this administration’s actions. Whatever their agenda is, I know that in every way their statements are flawed. I don’t worry about check marks on a ballot. I worry about our future; our water and the longevity of the communities who call northern Minnesota home. The Boundary Waters have been untouched for millions of years. Generations have relied on their pristine waters for rejuvenation and livelihood. A stroke of the pen and it all may be lost forever.
So my parting question is this: if we allow harm and destruction to fall on the places history has deemed untouchable, where do we draw the line? Or is it that we’ve finally arrived at the point where that line itself no longer exists. Though in the shadows of our Yellowstone’s and Yosemite’s, this northern Minnesota watershed appears miniscule, but it’s outcome will create ripples that extend beyond its borders. If mining proceeds near the Boundary Waters there will be a dire message sent to the rest of the country and the natural places we hold dear attached to it. That no matter how irreplaceable something may be, no matter how damming the scientific evidence or drastic the consequences, there’s nothing that greed cannot overcome.
On and off camera Colton has been an advocate for the preservation and conservation of our public lands. In 2017 he was awarded the National Parks Conservation Associations Robin W. Winks Award for enhancing public understanding of the national park system. Colton was raised in the town of Delano, Minnesota.
Personalized, unique comments submitted during the formal public comment period carry even more weight than signing a form/petition. It takes 5-10 minutes to tell the Bureau of Land Management why the Boundary Waters is not worth risking for a sulfide-ore copper mine.
Tell the Bureau of Land Management not to renew Twin Metals' old mining leases next to the Boundary Waters.
Include your personal experience in the Boundary Waters region for business, recreation, hunting, fishing, etc.
The BLM's study of lease renewal does not adequately examine the immense risks from copper mining next to the Boundary Waters, such as economic and environmental impacts.
If you have expertise in an area like geology, botany, law etc., feel free to include your perspective and knowledge in those areas especially!
Ask the BLM to extend the public comment period (which began right over the Christmas holidays) by at least 60 days to allow for more public and expert input.
I strongly oppose renewal of two federal mineral leases in the Superior National Forest. I urge you to deny renewal.
[Personal story about your Boundary Waters or why the Wilderness is important to you!]
The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, Voyageurs National Park, and the Superior National Forest are priceless to the American people and must not be exposed to damage and pollution from sulfide-ore copper mining that would be inevitable if copper mining were to occur on public lands in the watershed of the Boundary Waters.
[Facts about the Boundary Waters.]
[The negative impacts sulfide-ore copper mining would have on the Boundary Waters and the surrounding communities. See below for facts and resources.]
We urge you to:
GENERAL BOUNDARY WATERS FACTS:
1.1 million acres of unique canoe country
1,100 lakes with over 2,000 designated campsites
1,200 miles of canoe and kayak routes and 237.5 miles of overnight hiking trails
Several sensitive wildlife species make the Wilderness their home, including the gray wolf, moose, Canada lynx and loon.
Top fishing and hunting destination
19 SCIENTIFIC STUDIES - The Trump Administration claims that after an “extensive review,” there was no new “scientific information.” However, public record shows that 19 new studies, reports, and scientific journal articles were submitted to the Forest Service on this issue. See them here: Earthworks' Boundary Waters repository of scientific and economic studies.
NOT ONE COPPER MINE HAS OPERATED SAFELY - In the history of sulfide-ore copper mining, no copper mine has ever operated and been closed for at least 10 years without polluting surrounding surface water or groundwater. The copper mining industry has a long and continuing history of severe water pollution including acid drainage, heavy metals contamination, sulfates, and exceedingly high specific conductance, as well as increasingly frequent catastrophic accidents such as tailings dam failures. And even state-of-the-art mines are at risk for major infrastructure disaster. “Research shows that mines with high acid generating potential and in close proximity to surface and groundwater are at highest risk for water quality impacts.” US Copper Porphyry Mines Report, Bonnie Gestring; Earthworks.
500+ YEARS OF POLLUTION - Conservative models of pollution show that waterways would carry contaminants into the Wilderness. A single mine in this watershed will continually pollute the wilderness for at least 500 years¹. Tom Meyers, Ph. D. said in one of his reports, “If the sulfide mines are developed in the Rainy Headwaters, it is not a question of whether, but when, a leak will occur that will have major impacts on the water quality of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.”
Learn more about the scientific research pertaining to sulfide-ore copper mining near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness here.
4,500 JOBS > 650 JOBS - This year, a first-of-its-kind independent economic analysis by Harvard economists was published. It compared the effects of the U.S. Forest Service’s proposed 20-year mining ban near the Boundary Waters, with the consequences of sulfide-ore copper mining in the Boundary Waters watershed. The authors modeled 36 employment scenarios and 72 different income scenarios comparing the proposed 20-year ban versus a Twin Metals mine. In all employment scenarios the 20-year ban produced more jobs over a 20-year period in the Boundary Waters region than the mining scenario. In the best-case scenario, Twin Metals Minnesota would only create 650 jobs versus the 4,500 jobs that will be created over 20 years if copper mining is banned and the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness is protected.
Learn more about the Harvard Study.
$950 MILLION MORE FROM AN AMENITY-BASED ECONOMY THAN A COPPER MINE -A Harvard study showed that a healthy Boundary Waters creates a healthy business boom for the long-haul: a 20-year mining ban would produce far greater economic benefit and diversity than the proposed Twin Metals mine with up to $900 million more personal income to the local area over 20 years if copper mining is banned. Learn more about the Harvard Study.
THE PUBLIC DOESN’T WANT THIS MINE:
A vast majority of Minnesotans and Americans want the Boundary Waters protected from the threat of sulfide-ore copper mining. Seventy percent of Minnesotans oppose sulfide-ore copper mining near the Boundary Waters, and over 94% of the 125,000 public comments on the proposed mineral withdrawal urged protection.
An analysis by Key Log Economics found that of the more than 81,000 unique comment letters submitted to the Forest Service in 2017, 98.2% supported a 20-year ban on sulfide-ore copper mining in the watershed of the Boundary Waters. In addition, the Forest Service received petitions and postcards signed by 41,971 people that support the mineral withdrawal. Altogether, 121,539 people urged the Forest Service to protect the Boundary Waters. This scoping comment period generated the most participation in an environmental review process in Minnesota history.
CORRUPTION AND POLLUTION:
IVANKA TRUMP’S LANDLORD -It all comes down to one foreign billionaire who happens to be Ivanka Trump's landlord. Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner are paying $15,000 a month to rent their home in the D.C. from Andrónico Luksic, owner of foreign mining giant Antofagasta, the parent company to Twin Metals Minnesota. The Wall Street Journal reported that the Chilean billionaire bought a Washington, D.C., mansion for $5.5 million, just after the November election on December 22, 2016, and that twelve days after the purchase, Luksic’s company rented the mansion to Ms. Trump and Mr. Kushner.
Antofagasta has a history of environmental disaster and political corruption in its homeland. Antofagasta was found guilty by the Chilean Supreme Court of harming residents when the mining company located its tailings dam upstream, polluting the groundwater and blocking a critical source of water on which the community depended. They were responsible for the highest number of toxic spills in the region of Coquimbo, including one spill which dumped 13,000 liters of copper concentrate directly into a river. They faced a fine of $23.8 million and closure of its biggest copper mine in Chile over violations of its environmental permit, including water pollution.
Antofagasta has been implicated in a number of bribery and corruption scandals, including with a high-ranking Chilean cabinet minister, a questionable $10 million dollar loan to the daughter-in-law of the Chilean president, and tax fraud.
CONCERN FOR PUBLIC HEALTH
Sulfide-ore copper mining could have major impacts on human health. “The World Health Organization lists the ten environmental toxins with greatest concern to human health, and sulfide-ore copper mining releases at least six of these - mercury, lead, arsenic, particulate air pollution, asbestos, and cadmium. Sulfide-ore copper mining also releases sulfates, which fuel the chemical reactions that transform mercury to its toxic form methylmercury.
These toxins have known harmful effects to human health including cancer, lung disease, heart disease, and neurodevelopmental diseases (dyslexia and other learning disorders, intellectual disabilities, autism, and ADHD among them). Babies from gestation through age three are especially vulnerable due to their rapidly growing brains, which have a high affinity for these heavy metals.”
You can read the BLM's "environmental assessment" document on the renewal of these leases (it's only about 30 pages long).
Dear Interior Deputy Secretary Bernhardt:
Last month you met with 40 of us, youth from eight states and two countries, who are members of Kids for The Boundary Waters. We flew to Washington, D.C. to meet with elected and appointed officials in defense of America’s most visited wilderness, the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. We are writing today to express our disappointment in the actions taken by the BLM on December 20th – under direction of the Department of Interior – to unlawfully renew mineral leases for foreign mining giant, Antofagasta, that were cancelled two years ago.
Antofagasta seeks to exploit our nation’s minerals in the Superior National Forest of Minnesota. Proposed mine sites are adjacent to the Boundary Waters, within the watershed and along lakes and rivers that flow into the 1.1 million acre Wilderness. The toxic acid runoff from these mines would poison the Wilderness lakes, rivers, wetlands, wildlife, and woods. Sulfide-ore copper mining has never been done in Minnesota, “the Land of 10,000 Lakes,” and with good reason: everywhere it has been done – even in the most arid ecosystems - it has caused environmental damage, usually on a massive scale. The Environmental Protection Agency lists hardrock mining as America’s largest generator of toxic releases.
We all know the end result of these mines on the Boundary Waters: America’s most popular wilderness – her clean waters, wildlife, and woods – irreversibly poisoned, damaged, and destroyed.
Allowing this mining would be a betrayal of our generation. All of us – and hundreds of thousands of other kids – grew up paddling in the Boundary Waters with friends and family, and through camps and outdoor programs such as the five popular YMCA Boundary Waters camps, Camp Koochiching, the Northern Lakes Girl Scout Base, the Northern Tier Boy Scout High Adventure Canoe Base, and Voyageur Outward Bound School. We cut our teeth on the wonders of the natural world in this place, the greatest protected canoe country wilderness in the world.
While you may promote Every Kid Outdoors, it is a meaningless and cruel gesture unless the Interior Department fulfills its promise of wilderness protection for the Boundary Waters. And the only way to fulfill this promise is to say no to copper mining in this place.
Once again, we Kids for The Boundary Waters ask you to stop. Stop advancing dangerous mining that will benefit only a foreign mining company. Join us in advocating for permanent protection of public lands in the watershed of the Boundary Waters from copper mining. Only this will ensure that the Boundary Waters remains one of the greatest landscapes for outdoor adventures in the nation.
Over the last two years, agency studies on how to best protect the Boundary Waters have been abruptly cancelled, previous scientific analysis has been ignored, economic impact data has been disregarded, long-expired federal mineral leases have been summarily reinstated, and longstanding environmental precedent and laws have been defied.
During our meeting you heard from just eight of the 40 Kids in our group. Our stories were honest and heartfelt, and included a first-hand account of the wholly destructive nature of this type of mining from a teen who took the time to fly all the way from Peru to share his story.
In response to our well-researched, scientific- and economically-based request, you had no response other than to offer us cookies. We don’t want cookies. We want you and the Department of the Interior to do your jobs to protect America’s Boundary Waters.
Kids for the Boundary Waters is committed to doing everything possible to defend the Boundary Waters. The fight for the Boundary Waters is most especially about us KIDS who will lose something priceless and inherit the mess if this mine is built. This is our future – our water, our public lands, our resources, our health, and our country are at stake. Not this mine. Not in this place. Not Ever.
Joseph A. Goldstein
President & Founder, Kids4BW
Abigael Carron, Boulder CO
Adam Benway, Lima Peru
Christina Treacy, Minneapolis MN
Eamon Davnie, Minneapolis MN
Ellie McConville, St. Paul, MN
Ellie Retzlaff, Eden Prairie MN
Elsie Falconer, Eden Prairie MN
Emma Brewer, St. Paul MN
Gainsley Korengold, Bronxville NY
Grace Pereira, Minneapolis, MN
Greta Lahm, Minneapolis MN
Holiday Holcomb, Minneapolis MN
Isabella Sutherland, Duluth MN
Isaiah Bischoff, Minneapolis, MN
Kaya Sloman, Springfield IL
Keelee Thering, Minneapolis MN
Keira Obert, St. Paul, MN
Liam Schatzline, Savage MN
Lillian Lamb, Minneapolis MN
Lily Cartier, New Brighton MN
Lily Pearson, St. Paul, MN
Lola Jensen, Wilmette IL
Maddie Fahnline, Evergreen CO
Maggie Mills, Bloomington MN
Margo Cushman, Milwaukee WI
Marianna Hefte, Minneapolis MN
Molly Potts, Pittsburg PA
Nathan Wegner, Omaha NE
Nayana Gurung, Mendota Heights MN
Noah Miller, Land O’Lakes WI
Piper Jensen, Wilmette IL
Tam Ayers, Arlington VA
William Steiner, Minneapolis MN
Wini Bettenburg, St. Paul MN
In 2016 the U.S. Forest Service concluded that sulfide-ore copper mining in the headwaters of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness posed inherent risks of serious harm to the “unique, iconic, and irreplaceable wilderness area” and withheld its consent to renewal of the only two federal mineral leases in the Superior; the leases were then cancelled.
NOW: The Trump Administration is fast-tracking the grant of public lands and minerals in the headwaters of the Boundary Waters to foreign mining company Antofagasta.
Peer-reviewed science shows that (i) sulfide-ore copper mining would seriously pollute the Boundary Waters and downstream lands and waters and (ii) this damage could not be mitigated or fixed.
Independent economic studies show that the Boundary Waters region would enjoy more jobs and income if copper mining were banned.
Ideological and corporate interest considerations have been given precedence over massive evidence of the harm that sulfide-ore copper mining would cause to valuable and uniquely vulnerable public lands and waters.
At risk are the nation’s most-visited Wilderness (and only significant lakeland Wilderness) and downstream protected public lands and waters.
The clean water of the Superior National Forest, which includes the Boundary Waters, constitutes 20% of the freshwater in the entire 193-million-acre national forest system.
RECENT ACTION: On December 20, 2018 – on the eve of a government shutdown - the Bureau of Land Management released an Environmental Assessment of the two cancelled federal mineral leases and said it was renewing those leases for the benefit of Antofagasta’s Twin Metals.
The EA identifies no environmental or economic impacts and does no analysis of harm.
The EA does not consider denial of the mineral leases.
The public has only 30 days to comment (which includes the year-end holidays).
The Trump Administration is short-circuiting established laws and procedures, making legally indefensible interpretations, and sidestepping treaties designed to protect the Boundary Waters and the rest of the Superior National Forest, Voyageurs, and Quetico – all while sharply limiting environmental review and public involvement, and disregarding and suppressing science that shows harm to the environment, the economy, and human health.
Cancelling at the 11th hour a Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA) study of a proposed 20-year ban on mining in the watershed of the Boundary Waters.
Reinstating two expired federal mineral leases – effectively treating expired 20-year leases as 63-year leases.
Considering granting mineral leases without Forest Service consent or required environmental review.
Ignoring state and federal water quality laws and regulations protective of the Boundary Waters and Voyageurs.
Ignoring Wilderness laws protecting the Boundary Waters and the rest of the Superior National Forest.
Ignoring the U.S. – Canada Boundary Waters Treaty protective of Quetico.
Ignoring the 1854 Treaty with Ojibway tribes.
The Trump Administration is dismissing science and suppressing its own scientific and economic reports that show harm to the environment, the economy, and human health.
Refusing to provide its own reports and studies completed during the FLPMA study of a proposed 20-year mining ban to Congress and the public.
Ignoring science, economics, and the testimony of experts, including at least 55 directly relevant reports, submitted to federal agencies over the past five years.
Ignoring the studies cited in the detailed U.S. Forest Service denial of consent
The Trump Administration is dismissing and disregarding the views of the American people.
Two federal public comment processes (2016 – 2018) involved high levels of public participation and overwhelming support for banning copper mining.
Over 250,000 comments; approximately 98% in support of protection
Five public hearings; speakers nearly 2-1 in favor of protection
More than 55 scientific and economic reports and studies showing damage to the environment, the economy, and public heath
TAKE ACTION TO PROTECT THE BOUNDARY WATERS AND DOWNSTREAM LANDS & WATERS
DEMAND THAT DECISIONS BE BASED ON FACTS AND SCIENCE
DEMAND THAT THE NATION’S LAWS BE RESPECTED AND FOLLOWED AND THAT THE PUBLIC BE FULLY ENGAGED
DEMAND STEWARDSHIP OF OUR NATION’S MOST VISITED NATIONAL WILDERNESS AREA: DO NOT SACRIFICE THE BOUNDARY WATERS FOR SHORT TERM PROFITS OF A FOREIGN MINING COMPANY
Take 2 minutes to join the thousands of Americans standing up to protect the Boundary Waters.
Personalized, unique comments submitted during the formal public comment period carry even more weight than signing a form/petition.
On December 20, the Trump Administration’s U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) announced it will renew Chilean mining giant Antofagasta’s Twin Metals mining leases. These leases were terminated in 2016. It is contrary to our nation’s laws to renew lawfully terminated mineral leases. This action is intended to avoid America’s bedrock environmental laws to allow dangerous sulfide-ore copper mining on public lands next to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness for the benefit of a foreign mining company.
Since assuming power in 2017, the Trump Administration has been ignoring science, facts, and the will of the people by systematically stripping protections for the Boundary Waters in favor of Chilean mining giant, Antofagasta.
These federal mineral leases were terminated in 2016 when, after years of study and overwhelming public comment, the U.S. Forest Service concluded that copper mining under these leases posed an unacceptable risk of irreparable damage to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and to surrounding Superior National Forest lands and waters. The renewal is based on a legal opinion by former Koch strategist Daniel Jorjani, who has been acting as the top lawyer for the Department of Interior the past two years, despite never undergoing the required confirmation by the US Senate.
The Bureau of Land Management has prepared an inadequate and incomplete “study” of the leases. A 21-day public comment period has been opened, occurring inconveniently during the Holiday weeks and wraps up January 22, 2018.
In December 2016, the Obama Administration and its federal agencies announced that applications to renew Antofagasta’s Twin Metals mineral leases were denied and a proposed 20-year ban on copper mining in the Boundary Waters watershed would be considered. The Bureau of Land Management stated in its release, "Citing broad concerns from thousands of public comments and input about potential impacts of mining on the wilderness area’s watershed, fish and wildlife, and the nearly $45 million recreation economy, the agencies today took actions that denied an application for renewal of two hard rock mineral leases in the area, as well as initiated steps to withdraw key portions of the watershed from new mineral permits and leases.”
In January 2017, the Forest Service and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) launched an environmental review of the proposed 20-year ban on copper mining on national forest lands in the watershed of the Boundary Waters. This study was designed to analyze the environmental, economic, and social impacts of a ban and to consider the risk sulfide-ore copper mining posed to the region. The study called an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), is the process provided under federal law to guide a decision by the Secretary of the Interior on whether public lands should be off-limits to mining for twenty years. One year later, the Forest Service downgraded the withdrawal study from an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) to an Environmental Assessment (EA). The EA was required to be completed by January 2019, when the Interior Secretary would make his decision.
On September 6, 2018, the U.S. Forest Service abruptly the EA. It claimed that although the nearly 21-month study disclosed no new science, it had reviewed numerous reports to reach the conclusion that the Superior National Forest lands under study should be opened to copper mining immediately. Since the abrupt cancellation, the Forest Service has refused to share these reports with the public and has even rebuffed requests from Congress. Even more, telling is that more than 55 strong science and economic reports directly applicable to the negative impacts of copper mining on the Boundary Waters ecosystem and economy were submitted to the Forest Service. The Forest Service’s claim of no new science is misleading at best. Just as the reports are being suppressed, all public access to the reading room for the EA has been shut down. These actions demonstrate an attempt to ignore the nation’s law that governs mining and to suppress the science and economics that would have supported one outcome: that only a 20-year ban on copper mining would protect the Boundary Waters and downstream lands and waters in the Superior National Forest, the Quetico Park, and Voyageurs National Park. The study became inconvenient for an administration determined to favor foreign mining companies over the welfare of local communities.
The Trump administration is also ignoring another law that protects the Boundary Waters from dangerous sulfide-ore copper mining. In Minnesota, the Forest Service has the right to say no to mining in the Superior National Forest. That right, based on statute, protects the unique canoe country ecosystem, which is unlike any other place in America, with its abundant clean water. The Trump administration reversed the Forest Service’s 2016 denial of consent to these mining leases and has informed the Forest Service that it cannot exercise the right to withhold consent.
Now, the BLM is renewing these terminated leases after only a narrow and clearly inadequate review of negative environmental, economic, and social impacts of dangerous sulfide-ore copper mining. It is providing only extremely limited opportunity for the public to engage and to raise concerns of the negative impacts of copper mining on the Wilderness and nearby lands, waters, and communities. The science developed during the two-year EA, canceled on September 6, 2018, is being withheld from the people, further inhibiting their ability to assess harm.
Here is the timeline of events:
December 15, 2016: U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM), which manages federal minerals on the Superior National Forest, notified Twin Metals that the company’s application for renewal of the mineral leases was denied.
December 15, 2016: U.S. Departments of Agriculture and Interior (parent agencies to the Forest Service and BLM) announced they would bar any new mineral leases or mineral exploration on 234,328 acres of national forest lands around the Boundary Waters for two years, in order to study a proposed 20-year mining ban as necessary to protect the Boundary Waters watershed from damage from sulfide-ore copper mining.
January 13, 2017: Forest Service announced the beginning of a comment period to determine the scope (i.e., what issues should be reviewed) of the environmental review.
May 25, 2017: Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue confirmed that the environmental impact study on banning sulfide-ore copper mining in the Boundary Waters watershed will proceed to completion and decisions would be based on facts and science.
Aug. 17, 2017: Forest Service received more than 125,000 public comments on the proposed withdrawal, with approximately 98% of the over 81,000 unique comments and 94% of the over 44,000 petition comments favoring withdrawal.
Dec. 22, 2017: Acting Principal Deputy Solicitor of the Department of the Interior Daniel Jorjani issued a legal opinion finding that BLM lacked discretion to deny Twin Metals’ lease renewal application
Jan. 26, 2018: Forest Service downgrades withdrawal study from an environmental impact statement to an environmental assessment and initiates a second public comment period. Nearly 56,000 comments were received, nearly all of which supported a 20-year ban.
May 2, 2018: The Department of the Interior and Bureau of Land Management reinstated two expired mineral leases and Twin Metals’ renewal application.
June 2018: Three lawsuits filed in federal district court in DC challenging the reinstatement decision.
Sept. 6, 2018: Secretary of the Department of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced in a press release that the Forest Service had cancelled the EA and would not complete the study of a 20-year mining ban. Instead, it announced that the Superior National Forest was open to sulfide-ore copper mining.
Many of the critically important science and economic studies submitted to the Forest Service are now posted at earthworks.org/BoundaryWaters.
Right now is the most critical time for you to take action and to speak loudly for this quiet place. Here are a few other ways you can get involved:
Who is Antofagasta?
Twin Metals Minnesota, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Antofagasta PLC of Chile, is demanding renewal of sulfide-ore copper mining leases covering 5,000 acres of National Forest lands on the edge of the Boundary Waters Wilderness. Antofagasta is the ninth-largest copper mining company in the world and is based in Chile, where it owns several copper mines. That it has an atrocious environmental and social track record there should concern anyone who cares about the Boundary Waters and the communities around it.
Antofagasta should never be entrusted with the health and safety of the Boundary Waters and its watershed. In Chile, Antofagasta PLC:
caused the biggest loss of cultural heritage in Chile’s recent history, according to the Chilean Archaeological Society, when it excavated more than 500 boulders bearing 2,000 petroglyphs and buried a pre-Columbian cemetery and archeological sites from two vanished cultures, to make way for the El Mauro tailings dam. (London Mining Network, 6/14/13);
was found guilty by the Chilean Supreme Court of harming residents of a community when Antofagasta located its tailings dam upstream, polluting the groundwater and blocking a critical source of water on which the community depended (BNamericas, 10/24/14);
faces a potential fine of $23.8 million and closure of its biggest copper mine in Chile over violations of its environmental permit, including water pollution (Reuters, 10/13/16; Mining.com 10/14/16); and
was responsible for the highest number of toxic spills in the region of Coquimbo; one spill dumped 13,000 liters of copper concentrate directly into a river (Conflicts Over Water in Chile: Between Human Rights and Market Rules, Sept. 2010).
A Chilean senator brought charges against Antofagasta for tax fraud (United Press International 5/23/03).
Antofagasta is heavily involved in extreme water privatization occurring in desert areas of Chile, depriving many poor and indigenous families of their historic water sources. (Conflicts Over Water in Chile: Between Human Rights and Market Rules, September 2010) (The Guardian, 3/21/2014).
Antofagasta’s corporate structure is dangerously consolidated within the Luksic family – one of Chile's wealthiest families (The Telegraph, 11/06/04).
The Luksics have a history of involvement in political-financial scandals. The Bank of Chile, which is controlled by the Luksic family, gave the Chilean president’s daughter-in-law a special $10 million loan after she met with bank vice-president Andrónico Luksic (Reuters, 2/10/15), the chairman of the Luksic Group, the family's business holding company.
The Wall Street Journal reported that the Chilean billionaire bought a Washington, D.C., mansion for $5.5 million, just after the November election on December 22, 2016, and that twelve days after the purchase, Luksic’s company rented the mansion to Ms. Trump and Mr. Kushner. Ivanka and Kushner are paying $15,000 a month to rent their home.
While Andrónico Luksic has tweeted that Ms. Trump and Mr. Kushner are paying market rate rent - the real cause for concern is that Luksic of Antofagasta reportedly spent $5.5 million to make a mansion available to members of the First Family and top advisors to President Donald Trump at a time when Antofagasta is suing the United States to try to force renewal of mineral leases near the Boundary Waters.
The copper mining industry has a long history of acid mine drainage and heavy metals leaching with catastrophic environmental impacts, especially to water. And even state-of-the-art mines are at risk for major infrastructure disaster. For example, in August 2014, a tailings dam breach at the Mount Polley copper and gold mine in British Columbia released 4.5 million cubic meters of toxic slurry into a lake and river system that was a priceless salmon spawning area. Two days later, a mine in Mexico spilled 40,000 cubic meters of copper sulfate acid into two rivers, wiping out the water supply for a vast rural area that depended on the river water for domestic use and agriculture. Fish and wildlife were devastated.
Prcoessing facility of Chilean mine.
Two important news reports were recently published that make plain the Trump administration's unlawful maneuvers to ram through federal mineral leases for the Chilean mining giant Antofagasta’s Twin Metals on the edge of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. The person at the center of these maneuvers is Koch Brothers strategist Daniel Jorjani, who has been impermissibly acting as the top lawyer for the Department of Interior the past two years, despite never undergoing the required confirmation by the US Senate.
Links to news reports:
The news reports are based on Department of Interior documents obtained as part of a lawsuit challenging the legality of a May 2018 temporary reinstatement of expired mineral leases. These leases were not renewed in 2016 when, after years of study and overwhelming public comment, the U.S. Forest Service concluded that copper mining under these leases posed an unacceptable risk of irreparable damage to the Boundary Waters and surrounding Superior National Forest lands and waters.
Since assuming power in 2017 the Trump Administration has been ignoring science, facts, and the will of the people by systematically unwinding protections for the Boundary Waters at the behest of Antofagasta.
The Trump Administration is now on the verge of fully renewing the expired leases and granting Twin Metals the right to mine. This follows on the heels of the Trump Administration’s 11th hour cancellation of a two-year study intended to determine the benefits of a 20-year mining ban on lands near the Boundary Waters. The ban was requested by the U.S. Forest Service as necessary to protect the Wilderness from the risks posed by sulfide-ore mining. Over 94% of the 125,000 public comments on the study urged protection.
FIVE THINGS TO KNOW
1. The Trump Administration is rigging the legal process to ram through mineral leases for a Chilean mining boss who is also Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump’s landlord. Since assuming power in 2017 the Trump Administration has been ignoring science, facts, and the will of the people by systematically unwinding protections for the Boundary Waters at the behest of Antofagasta.
2. Antofagasta has a history of environmental disaster and political corruption in its homeland. Antofagasta was found guilty by the Chilean Supreme Court of harming residents when the mining company located its tailings dam upstream, polluting the groundwater and blocking a critical source of water on which the community depended. They were responsible for the highest number of toxic spills in the region of Coquimbo, including one spill which dumped 13,000 liters of copper concentrate directly into a river. They faced a fine of $23.8 million and closure of its biggest copper mine in Chile over violations of its environmental permit, including water pollution.
Antofagasta has been implicated in a number of bribery and corruption scandals, including with a high-ranking Chilean cabinet minister, a questionable $10 million dollar loan to the daughter-in-law of the Chilean president, and tax fraud.
3. The Trump Administration is suppressing important scientific information about the danger sulfide-ore copper mining poses to the Boundary Waters. The US Department of Agriculture abruptly cancelled a two year study on the impacts of copper mining on lands and communities near the Boundary Waters. The study would have shown the harm sulfide-ore copper mining would have done. The Trump administration has refused to make public the underlying ecological, public health, and economic reports prepared during the study. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Toxics Release Inventory, metal mining is the nation’s #1 toxic polluter, and a wide body of rigorous scientific literature shows the near inevitability of pollution flowing into and severely damaging the Boundary Waters.
4. Protecting the Boundary Waters is the smart economic choice. The BWCA is the most heavily visited wilderness area in the United States, attracting more than 155,000 visitors from all over the world and helps drive more than $900 million in economic activity every year and over 17,000 jobs. A recent independent study from Harvard University showed that protecting the Boundary Waters from the Twin Metals mine would resulted in dramatically more jobs and income over a year 20 year period.
5. A vast majority of Minnesotans and Americans want the Boundary Waters protected from the threat of sulfide-ore copper mining. Seventy percent of Minnesotans oppose sulfide-ore copper mining near the Boundary Waters, and over 94% of the 125,000 public comments on the proposed mineral withdrawal urged protection.
|1873||Public domain lands in Minnesota withdrawn from General Mining Law of 1872|
|1909||Superior National Forest established|
|1909||Boundary Waters Treaty signed by Canada and the United States, requiring that neither country pollute boundary waters or waters that flow across the boundary|
|1946||Congress authorizes mineral leasing on acquired national forest lands in Minnesota where leasing will not interfere with primary purposes for which the land was acquired|
|1950||Contemplating granite, gravel, and iron ore mining that would not interfere with recreational uses, Congress authorizes mineral leasing on public domain national forest lands in Minnesota upon Forest Service consent|
|1964||Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW) designated by the Wilderness Act|
|1966||BLM issues to predecessor of Twin Metals Minnesota two federal preference right mineral leases (MNES 1352 and MNES 1353) covering nearly 5,000 acres of the Superior National Forest adjacent to the BWCAW for a primary term of 20 years|
Boundary Waters Wilderness Act bans mining within the Wilderness, establishes a 220,000-acre Mining Protection Zone along entry corridors, and further protects the BWCAW
|1989||Mineral leases (MNES 1352 and MNES 1353) renewed for 10 years|
|2004||Mineral leases (MNES 1352 and MNES 1353) renewed for 10 years|
|Oct. 2012||Twin Metals applies for a third 10-year renewal of mineral leases (1352 and 1353)|
BLM issues 28 prospecting permits covering over 38,000 acres of the Superior National Forest in the BWCAW watershed
|Mar. 8, 2016||Solicitor of the Department of the Interior Hilary Tompkins issues a legal opinion finding that BLM has discretion to grant or deny Twin Metals’ lease renewal application|
|Dec. 14, 2016|
Following a 30-day public comment period and two public meetings, Forest Service issues decision withholding its consent to renew mineral leases (1352 and 1353)
|Dec. 15, 2016||BLM denies renewal of mineral leases (1352 and 1353), and the leases expire|
|Jan. 19, 2017||Forest Service files an application to withdraw from mineral leasing approximately 234,000 acres of Superior National Forest lands in the BWCAW watershed, initiating a 2-year segregation, and issues a notice of intent to prepare an environmental impact statement|
|Mar.-July 2017||Forest Service holds three public meetings on the proposed withdrawal, with approximately 2,700 people attending and 101 out of 157 speakers supporting withdrawal|
|Aug. 17, 2017||Forest Service receives more than 125,000 public comments on the proposed withdrawal, with approximately 98% of the over 81,000 unique comments and 94% of the over 44,000 form comments favoring withdrawal|
|Dec. 22, 2017||Acting Principal Deputy Solicitor of the Department of the Interior Daniel Jorjani issues a legal opinion withdrawing and replacing the Tompkins opinion and finding that BLM lacked discretion to deny Twin Metals’ lease renewal application|
|Jan. 26, 2018|
Forest Service downgrades withdrawal study from an environmental impact statement to an environmental assessment and initiates a second public comment period
|Feb. 28, 2018|
Forest Service receives an additional nearly 56,000 comments in favor of withdrawal; altogether approximately 98% of the over 180,000 comments received favored withdrawal
|May 2, 2018||BLM rescinds its December 2016 denial of the renewal of 1352 and 1353 and reinstates the expired leases and Twin Metals’ renewal application|
|June 2018||Three lawsuits filed in federal district court in DC challenging the reinstatement decision|
|Sept. 6, 2018||Secretary of the Department of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announces in a press release that the Forest Service is cancelling its application for withdrawal, and the public process and development of an environmental assessment are terminated; the announcement followed statements by President Trump and Vice President Pence at rallies in Duluth, MN in June and August that they would “rescind the withdrawal” and are “rolling back the ban”|