The Potluck

Biden administration restricts mining near Boundary Waters

By: - October 20, 2021 12:02 pm

Photo by Christina MacGillivray/Minnesota Reformer.

The Biden administration is pausing new copper-nickel mining leases near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness for two years and launching a study to consider a 20-year ban on mineral mining in the area, a move that could block the proposed Twin Metals mine near Ely.

The restrictions, announced Wednesday, will affect more than 225,000 acres of federal land within the Rainy River Watershed, which overlaps with the Boundary Waters and Voyageurs National Park.

Environmental groups have advocated for restrictions on mining in the area for years, arguing it could cause irreversible harm to the Boundary Waters; Twin Metals and project supporters say the proposal includes measures to protect the region’s natural resources.

In 2016, the Forest Service under former President Barack Obama initiated a study to ban mining in the area over concerns about the health of the Boundary Waters. President Donald Trump’s administration canceled the application and review in 2018.

“A place like the Boundary Waters should be enjoyed by and protected for everyone, not only today but for future generations,” said Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland in a statement.

During the review, the Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service will conduct an environmental analysis to assess the potential effects of mining on the watershed. It will also include a 90-day public comment period.

The announcement comes as the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is reviewing whether state regulations for nonferrous metal mines sufficiently protect the Boundary Waters.

Minnesota’s current regulations ban mining in the Boundary Waters and certain areas nearby, and environmental advocates say the ban should include the entire Rainy River Headwaters Watershed. That would extend the ban by roughly 800,000 acres, on top of the 1.1 million acres contained in the Boundary Waters.

For the review, the DNR will seek public comment on whether current state regulations are “adequate to protect the BWCAW from pollution, impairment, or destruction or should further restrictions on mining be extended to all or part of the Rainy River Headwaters”? The public comment period will begin Nov. 9 and end Dec. 8.

Within a year, the DNR will make a decision, which could be appealed in a contested case hearing.

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Rilyn Eischens
Rilyn Eischens

Rilyn Eischens is a former data reporter for the Minnesota Reformer. Rilyn was born and raised in Minnesota and has worked in newsrooms in the Twin Cities, Iowa, Texas and most recently Virginia, where she covered education for The Staunton News Leader. She's an alumna of the Dow Jones News Fund data journalism program and the Minnesota Daily. When Rilyn isn't in the newsroom, she likes to read, add to her plant collection and try new recipes.