Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) withdrew his bill that would have allowed the government to sell federal lands for mining and other commercial use. Some had feared that the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness might find its way on the list of lands that could be mined in the future.
The BWCA remains a flashpoint for political controversy. Proposed copper-nickel mining projects near the BWCA have ground through more than ten years of exploration, speculation, and regulatory hurdles.
This week, Northern Minnesota’s U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan (D-MN8) released an interesting statement clarifying his position on mining projects near the BWCA. This statement is not related to Chaffetz’s bill, but rather a separate U.S. Forest Service action to remove lands near Ely from mining exploration:
“As an original cosponsor of the legislation that established the Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA) as a wilderness area – which prohibits any commercial development, mining or otherwise, in the wilderness – I am forever committed to protecting the BWCA, the environmental review process and all the waters of Minnesota and the Nation.
I support responsible mining and the rigorous, thorough environmental review process that each and every project proposal must go through. And the fact is, you can’t go through that process without a specific proposal. To be clear, there is no specific mining project at this point on the Superior National Forest lands that are proposed to be withdrawn from mining – and the U.S. Forest Service’s decision denies the opportunity for a project before there is even any project to review. Denying any business activity before you know what it is – and what kind of pollution abatement technology they will use or how effective it will be – lacks common sense and subverts the good, thorough and elaborate environmental review process we have in place.
I have consistently received high marks on scorecards from environmental groups – including 100% from the National Parks Conservation Association. I’m proud of my work. We have the cleanest water in the state; we’re proud of it and we’re going to keep it that way. And we’re not going to ban mining, manufacturing and commercial development – provided they go through the established process necessary to meet all of the required environmental standards.”
Nolan received a lot of criticism from the environmental caucus within the Democratic Party for his support of mining exploration in his district. This statement shows how difficult it is to thread the needle on this issue, particularly if you’re exploring a run for the DFL gubernatorial nomination in 2018.