GOP backs off federal land sale for now

PHOTO: Greg Walters, Flickr CC

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 U.S. edition of the Guardian reported on this in an update their earlier story, which I quoted in a hotly-debated post here last week.

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clear, there is no specific mining project at this point on the Superior National Forest lands that are proposed to be withdrawn from mining – and the U.S. Forest Service’s decision denies the opportunity for a project before there is even any project to review.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.

Comments

  1. The majority is fed up with politicians “threading the needle”..

  2. Reid Carron says:

    First and foremost, Nolan’s action is an attempt to shut the public out of any discussion about whether copper mining should be allowed in the Boundary Waters watershed. The Forest Service environmental review process that Nolan is trying to stop includes an extensive public comment period. Nolan is either incredibly ignorant, despite the many hours that the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters has spent trying to educate him, or incredibly disingenuous. Nolan parrots the Twin Metals line that the only correct process is one that involves a specific mine plan. That is contrary to law and contrary to the science and history of sulfide-ore copper mining. The minerals withdrawal and environmental review process that the Forest Service and BLM have commenced is specifically authorized by the Federal Land Policy Management Act and the National Environmental Policy Act. It has been utilized many times before, including for example to prevent uranium mining around the Grand Canyon. A specific mine plan is irrelevant. The question is whether sulfide-ore mining, with its inevitable acid mine drainage and its unbroken history of pollution–Butte, Mount Polley, and on and on–should be allowed to threaten the BWCAW–a national treasure. Nolan’s phony claim that he deserves credit for the 1978 act is shameless. Bruce Vento, Don Fraser, and others did the real work. If Nolan loves the BWCAW so much, why is he willing to sell it out for a Chilean mining company?

    • Gray Camp says:

      As I understand it, the Act that protects the BWCAW was debated in Congress, and only passed when the land that Twin Metals sits on would not be excluded from mining. The BWCA is safe today based on this compromise. Even with this, both Dayton and Obama have recently attempted to ignore this compromise and use their executive power to stop mining in this region (without any sort of public comment). I’m all for a fair process, but it has to be fair both ways.

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