McCollum bill seeks to protect BWCA from mining

Newton Lake, BWCAW, Minnesota

Newton Lake, BWCAW, Minnesota

As the mining industry readies its strategy for the next few years, those seeking environment protections in Northern Minnesota generated headlines this week as well.

Yesterday, U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN), representing the St. Paul metro district, introduced legislation that would prevent mining in the same watershed as federal wildernesses like the Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA). While that would not affect the proposed PolyMet development in Hoyt Lakes, part of the St. Louis River watershed, it would essentially block the less developed Twin Metals proposal in Ely.

Before anyone gets too excited, the bill has no chance of passing either the House or Senate. McCollum did say she hopes to influence the Obama administration to address the matter through the executive branch, though it’s hard to imagine much happening there one way or another.

Also this week, the Minnesota Environmental Partnership announced the results of a poll it commissioned about mining. While 72 percent of Minnesotans support traditional iron mining, only 18 percent generally support nonferrous mining near the BWCA. The practice of “sulfide mining,” a term that refers to mining rocks high in sulfur which can create chemical reactions in area waters, has only 26 percent support, with 28 percent opposed and — the statistic of the hour — 46 percent claiming no opinion.

These stories are continued salvos in the debate over nonferrous mining (or “sulfide mining,” or “innovate new mining” or whatever you want to call it). With the intense global pressure being placed on iron mining and other commodities, it seems to me that the most likely thing to stop new mining is economic reality. Nevertheless, the battle over the regulatory environment is real. As the poll shows, the debate remains largely confined to mining companies and their political hands, environmentalists and their political hands, a contingent of opinionated campers and naturalists along with the ever-decreasing population of nearby cities.

To borrow from the board game “Clue,” in the end the culprit could be Apathy in the Conservatory with the Copper-Nickel Pipe.


  1. Independent says

    If only Betty was around in 1887 she may have had a chance at that one. Go cliff diving and swimming at Miners Lake in Ely this summer when you visit.

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