The Potluck

DNR to review nonferrous mining location regulations

By: - October 4, 2021 3:36 pm

Seagull Lake near the end of the Gunflint Trail. The Boundary Waters and surrounding Superior National Forest are home to 20% of the freshwater in the national forest system. Critical mineral mining has resurrected the generational debate on the direction of job growth in the region. Photo by Christina MacGillivray/Minnesota Reformer.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources will review whether its regulations for nonferrous metal mines sufficiently protect the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, the agency announced Monday.

The announcement comes after an environmental advocacy group sued the DNR, alleging that the state’s existing rules restricting locations for nonferrous mines — mines of metals other than iron ore, like copper-nickel — aren’t adequate to protect the Boundary Waters. The decision could affect the proposed Twin Metals copper mining project near Ely, which opponents are seeking to block.

Minnesota’s current regulations ban mining in the Boundary Waters and certain areas nearby. Northeastern Minnesotans for Wilderness, the group that filed the suit, wants to prohibit mining in the entire Rainy River Headwaters Watershed surrounding the Boundary Waters. That would extend the ban by roughly 800,000 acres, on top of the 1.1 million acres contained in the Boundary Waters.

Northeastern Minnesotans for Wilderness argues that mining in that watershed could put the entire Boundary Waters at risk, since polluted water would flow into the wilderness. The nearby Quetico Provincial Park and Voyageurs National Park could also be harmed, the group says. 

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.

The Twin Metals proposal is still under federal review. The U.S. Department of Agriculture controls land at the site, and the Department of the Interior controls the copper deposit there. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, who blocked the project in President Barack Obama’s administration, has said he’s waiting for the Department of the Interior to issue a legal opinion before his department proceeds.

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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.