WASHINGTON – The U.S. House voted Thursday to overturn a temporary ban on mining in northern Minnesota put in place by the Obama administration.
The Minnesota’s Economic Rights in the Superior National Forest Act, also known as the MINER Act, passed 216-204. Most Republicans voted in favor of the bill, while most Democrats opposed it. Rep. Tom Emmer (R-MN) authored the bill, and Reps. Jason Lewis (R-MN) and Collin Peterson (D-MN) were co-sponsors of the legislation.
In a last minute decision made the day before former President Barack Obama left office, the Obama administration put a temporary ban on mining in a portion of the Superior National Forest near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. The two year ban aimed to protect the waters from mine waste output.
Emmer has called the move “misguided,” saying the ban on mining would risk over “10,000 jobs and billions of dollars in revenue and education funding.”
“In their final hours, the Obama Administration enacted a series of harmful and reckless policies, which have hindered our ability to utilize our state’s abundance of natural resources and bring jobs to a part of our state that badly needs them,” Emmer said in a press release. “I know that we can responsibly mine and bring jobs back to this region without destroying the forests, lakes and streams that all Minnesotans hold dear.”
The bill would allow mining leases to be renewed, but mining could not take place without first going through the state and federal approval processes. Emmer expressed confidence in his legislation, saying the MINER Act would not circumvent any environmental regulations or permitting requirements.
“The MINER Act is about protecting Minnesota’s right to explore and, if environmentally appropriate, mine valuable precious metals,” Emmer said.
Despite the protections the approval process provides, Rep. Erik Paulsen (R-MN) could not get behind the bill. Breaking from his Republican colleagues, Paulsen voted against the bill, citing concerns that it weakens the Antiquities Act and does not allow Minnesota’s national forests the same protections other national forests receive.
“The Boundary Waters is Minnesota’s Yellowstone, and as a national treasure, its waters need to be protected,” Paulsen said in a press release. “I want to make sure the Boundary Waters is preserved for future generations to enjoy without compromising standard environmental practices or its natural beauty.”
Rep. Betty McCollum also voiced her disapproval of the bill.
“The polluters won today, but the fight is not over,” McCollum said in a press release. “I am deeply disappointed that the U.S. House of Representatives is now on the record supporting toxic sulfide-ore copper mining on the doorstep of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, which would destroy this pristine wilderness forever.”
The Senate received the MINER Act on Friday. The bill is set to first be reviewed in the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.