The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has removed Obama-era restrictions on mineral leasing near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in Northern Minnesota.
In 2016, the Obama administration blocked mineral exploration of over 234,000 acres in the watershed in the Superior National Forest in order to conduct a review of environmental information related to the proposed mineral activities.
The USDA Forest Service recently completed a 15-month review including listening to thousands of citizens. Based on the review, the USDA cancelled the Rainy River Watershed withdrawal application, and companies will be able to seek to lease minerals in the watershed.
“It’s our duty as responsible stewards of our environment to maintain and protect our natural resources. At the same time, we must put our national forests to work for the taxpayers to support local economies and create jobs,” U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said. “We can do these two things at once: protect the integrity of the watershed and contribute to economic growth and stronger communities.”
Isaac Orr, a policy fellow at Center of the American Experiment specializing in energy and environmental policy, says the decision is “good news for Minnesotans.” Mineral exploration, which is different than mining, allows companies to lease the land in order to conduct testing to better understand the minerals lying below the surface. More information is better than less information, Orr says.
“The Trump Administration is allowing mineral exploration to occur on these lands, which is a lot different than mining,” Orr told Alpha News. “Companies will now be able to lease the lands and conduct testing to get a better understanding of the minerals underground, but companies seeking to develop any minerals they find would still have to conduct environmental impact statements and comply with all Minnesota Department of Natural Resource and Pollution Control Agency regulations.”
The hot-button issue has become a focus of the mining communities in Northern Minnesota, with both President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence promising to reverse the restrictions during rallies held in the state.
Republicans have praised the announcement. Pete Stauber, the Republican running to represent Minnesota’s Eighth Congressional District, said the reopening of the watershed was great news that reverses a cynical “last ditch effort” by the Obama administration.
“When I met with President Trump and Vice President Pence this summer in Duluth I conveyed to them in no uncertain terms the importance of canceling the mineral withdrawal cynically put in place as a last ditch effort by the Obama administration for purely political reasons and they understood,” Stauber said. “I am pleased the President and Vice President heard our voices and made it official today by ending this anti-job, anti-mining policy. This is great news for Minnesota working families and is another significant step toward unleashing the economic engine of this region.”
Karin Housley, who is running against Sen. Tina Smith, said the decision was a “major victory” for Minnesota.
“The government has done its due diligence in conducting an exhaustive review and holding a lengthy public comment period – and no new information was uncovered,” Housley said. “Now is the time for action, and I’m pleased the Trump administration has delivered on its commitment to open up the watershed to mineral leasing. Despite the left-wing rhetoric, Minnesotans know we can do both: protect our environment and mine responsibly.”
Despite the fact that further action would be required before companies could develop the minerals found in the watershed, environmentalists have turned the decision to reopen the area for mineral exploration into an attack on mining. Save the Boundary Waters slammed the decision as “a giveaway by the administration to a foreign mining conglomerate.”
Orr says the concerns over mining seems to ignore science in attempt to “drum up fear.”
“We’ve reached a point where science and facts support the conclusion that mining can be done in a way that protects the environment,” Orr said. “It seems like the anti-mining folks are choosing to ignore the sciences of engineering, chemistry, and hydrogeology as they continue to drum up fear about mining in Minnesota.”