NPCA submitted the following position to the House Committee on Natural Resources Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources on ahead of a hearing scheduled for July 27, 2017.
NPCA strongly opposes the Emmer draft legislation as it undermines two decisions made by the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) regarding harmful sulfide-ore copper mining within the watershed of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and Voyageurs National Park. The legislation also carves out a special exception for Minnesota from protective provisions of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA) and the Antiquities Act.
Mr. Emmer’s draft bill threatens the decision-making process already set in motion by the Forest Service to consider a twenty-year mineral withdrawal within the Superior National Forest of public lands in the Rainy River watershed that lie upstream of two federally-protected areas, the Boundary Waters and Voyageurs. Both areas are primarily water-based and would be threatened by any pollutants from mining activities in this watershed given all waters drain toward their waters. Tens of thousands of people have already submitted comments on this matter and over 2,000 have participated in agency-sponsored listening sessions. This legislation could erase the remarkable outpouring of public support for clean water and public lands and set a precedent for legislating a decision that could counter what the agencies and public want.
The draft legislation also threatens the BLM’s decision, with advice from the Forest Service, to not renew two mineral leases on the edge of the Boundary Waters Wilderness held by Twin Metals Minnesota. Although the language of the draft legislation is unclear, it is possible its intent is to restrain Forest Service and BLM discretion on lease renewals while reinstating the Twin Metals leases. Congress has granted discretion to the Forest Service and BLM to assess the circumstances and surrounding environment of any mineral lease application, including applications for lease renewals. Based on this discretion, both agencies have determined that this region is too vulnerable for this type of risky mining, a type of mining never before allowed in Minnesota. Twin Metals would operate in the northeastern part of the state upstream of the Boundary Waters Wilderness that hosts some of cleanest water in America, and Voyageurs National Park, which encompasses over 84,000 acres of water relied upon by many native species.
NPCA also strongly objects to carving out a special exception for Minnesota from the protective provisions of the Antiquities Act and FLPMA. The Antiquities Act allows the president to establish national monuments on federal lands already owned by all Americans. Nearly every president since 1906 (eight republicans and eight democrats) has used the Antiquities Act as a bipartisan conservation tool to protect our nation’s history and culture. The draft bill would eliminate this authority on federal lands in Minnesota, making it only the second state declared off-limits for national monuments declared by presidential proclamation. To carve out exceptions from this law is nothing short of a betrayal to the American people and the land and history we’ve spent generations protecting.
FLPMA establishes the authority of the Secretary of the Interior to withdraw land from leasing for up to twenty years. Any Forest Service and BLM decision to go forward with a twenty-year mineral withdrawal would be based on a thorough, science-based process through the National Environmental Policy Act. The draft bill would eliminate this authority solely for Minnesota, alone among the fifty states, undermining the ability of the agencies to do the job Congress has appointed to them.